A changing world

By Paul Hebden

Paul Hebden, the Alliance’s Media Manager, blogs from AIDS 2016.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is changing and it is doing so within a world of accelerated movement and seismic structural adjustment.

That was the consensus among panellists at the Adapt or Fall symposium, convened by the Alliance at the International AIDS Conference in Durban this week. The debate followed several of the fault lines that mark the civil society response to HIV and are forcing many within the movement, including the Alliance, to change.

The seminar examined the legitimacy of civil society actors within the HIV response, and the risk of ‘blurring’ between state actors and NGOs. It also looked at the contrast between INGOs, and their heavy footprint at international diplomatic fora, and those from the activist end of the civil society spectrum, whose vivid demand that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon meet them in a Durban street went unheeded earlier this week.

Whilst acknowledging the barriers that prevent the passion of the street being heard in forums like the UN, Christine Stegling, the Alliance’s Executive Director, cautioned against civil society evacuating those formal corridors of power. Neither should we ignore the agency of a new generation of advocates for whom AIDS has been ever present and who speak with complete legitimacy in those fora, she said.

George Ayala, Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, said he saw no shame in engaging with processes like the recent UN High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, even if only to highlight how they fail to actively include key population groups.

A series of global crises

Mandeep Tiwana of the Civicus think tank urged the panel to consider the scale of hostility towards civil society more broadly in today’s world. There is an ongoing assault on civil society by state and non-state actors (including terror organisations), he argued, that is at once financial, ideological and physical. He highlighted ongoing economic, humanitarian and environmental crises and how they are often being made worse by ideological and authoritarian forms of power.

“Our societies are facing several structural crises and we need to be able to reach beyond our silos to confront these,” he said.

Highlighting the worrying trends among Northern political elites, particularly in the ongoing US presidential race, panelist Mark Heywood of South African social justice centre Section 27, argued that the squeeze on civil society must be placed in a context broader than the HIV response. Christine Stegling noted that the movement itself was paying the price for failing to build broader solidarities with other social movements in the last 20 years or so.

While firm conclusions remained illusive, one thing from the panel was certain: the world is likely to remain a deeply unstable place which will no doubt affect civil society groups both inside and outside the HIV movement. And from this, change will surely come.