Safety and Security

Dennis - Icebreakers Uganda
Duration: 0:33
“Safety is paramount – we have to make sure that the service providers, the doctors, the outreach team and especially the recipients are all safe.”

What was done?

Safety and security were always high priority for the Alliance, even before SHARP started its work to increase access to HIV, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and other services for men who have sex with men (MSM). ‘Do no harm’ underpins the Alliance’s approach and we took a number of safety and security steps to mitigate or reduce risks for all the individuals and organisations working with and benefiting from SHARP. This included:

  • Acknowledging the expertise and experience of community-based organisations (CBOs) around security
  • Developing best- and worst-case scenario theories of change
  • Listening to the needs of in-country partners and developing community-designed workplans
  • Conducting formal security assessments of all programme partners
  • Designing security plans and building in appropriate security budgets based on security assessments
  • Including emergency contingency budgets in all country workplans
  • Activating, as required, a multidisciplinary Alliance Rapid Response Team within the Alliance secretariat linked to in-country mechanisms and other international and regional partners
  • Constant yet flexible communication along multiple, agreed communication pathways
  • Supporting regional linkages (both face-to-face and remote) between SHARP partners


Attack on GALZ end of year party

In December 2014, a group of unidentified men forced their way into the the Gay And Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) end of year party and beat up LGBT community members.

In December 2014, a group of 12-15 unidentified men forced their way into the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) end-of-year party venue and beat up LGBT community members using logs, iron bars, empty beer bottles and their fists.

Thirty-five people at the party suffered injuries that required medical attention including the GALZ Director of Programmes. GALZ feels that President Mugabe's rhetoric has helped create a climate and culture where some people feel able to attack LGBT people with impunity. GALZ was able to provide medical and psychosocial support to all who requested it but were unable to open a criminal case on behalf of those injured. This is because the police will only accept cases from individuals, and many of those hurt were too afraid to do so.

From “Mapping & appraisal of HIV prevention & care interventions for men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda & Zimbabwe: A report of the SHARP programme”

SHARP was guided by a set of core values that underpin the Alliance’s programming with key populations. In particular the principle of ‘do no harm’ required us to consider each unique county context, identify probable risks and develop plans to mitigate them as far as possible while considering future potential, as well as unknown, threats. It is important to learn from incidents that have occurred, during which staff, outreach workers, volunteers and clients have experienced fear, harassment, arrest, eviction, discrimination and violence when working with key populations, or as a result of identifying as a member of key populations.

The context in all four SHARP countries is generally hostile to MSM and the specific environment in each country is extremely fluid and liable to change overnight. This necessitated extensive planning and continual monitoring and reviewing, at both country and programmatic levels. While each individual security threat often had a specific set of country or local instigating factors, common regional issues (such as the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda) also contributed to shaping the wider political and social narrative towards MSM across the region.

Comprehensive situational analysis is essential and a range of partnerships was required (including emergency and legal responses) in order to develop policies and plans to help manage and mitigate security threats. Effective policies and plans needed to be ‘owned and lived’ by the SHARP partners and all staff, from volunteers to senior level management, who participated in their development and were active in their implementation. This required active prioritisation of safety and security and the allocation of appropriate time and resources.

What happened?

John - Community Health Education Services and Advocacy, Tanzania
Duration: 0:46
“When it comes to safety and security, the major challenge has been that what happened in each country created a backlash in all the others”

Challenges faced and limitations of our approach

Numerous security threats were encountered over the course of the programme resulting in programming being both disrupted and halted in all four programme countries at different times. In all cases work resumed as soon as it was deemed safe and feasible by the implementing partners.

It is important to note the burden that safety and security threats place on community organisations who respond in the following ways:  

  • Emergency coordination of their communities
  • Emergency support to individuals and partners
  • Advocacy
  • Lobbying and political messaging
  • Collation and documentation of human rights violations
  • Communication and coordination with national, regional and international partners
  • Managing and responding to media and press requests

It should not be forgotten that responding to security threats can delay programmatic activities and falls on the shoulders of small numbers of individuals who are themselves often at risk.

Solutions developed 

Under this programme, pre-empting the need for an emergency response in Uganda, the Alliance developed a Rapid Response System to deal with human rights crises. This has become an Alliance Protocol which is initiated when a human rights crisis occurs within a country or region and is posing a threat to Alliance partners and/or their services and service users. This mechanism brings together Alliance specialists on the country/region affected and media, policy, risk and human rights specialists along with relevant international partners. This team has coordinated appropriate responses from the Alliance and our partners and reactions have included making statements, conceptualising and running an international campaign and providing emergency funds.

IBU responds to the Anti-Homosexuality Act

After President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, the Ugandan partners embarked on an incredible journey responding at organisational, programmatic, national policy and global level.

“Uganda is a very challenging environment so we designed theories of change very realistically and very honestly, saying this is what we want to happen and this is how it has to happen. But we recognised that this is Uganda and things can change very quickly in terms of LGBT issues and things can go very very badly...

The anti-homosexuality bill was passed and we had to go to the worst case scenario theory of change. If we hadn’t planned for that then the programme would have come to a halt; but because we had planned for it, we managed to divert from one theory of change to another.

What I’m most proud of is that we had this huge shake up and something could have made us stop. But even when the bill was passed we continued implementing. That was huge for us.”

- Dennis IBU

After President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, the Ugandan partners embarked on an incredible journey responding at organisational, programmatic, national policy and global level.

The community-based organisation’s offices were temporarily closed, while both implementing partners maintained safe spaces for the men who have sex with men (MSM) community and also gave advice to their beneficiaries on their personal safety and how to continue to access services. Sending information and messages through the closely-knit social network of the MSM community in Uganda was an effective and safe approach. At national level, partners formed a security committee to coordinate and evaluate calls for help and support individuals facing violence or other human rights violations. The Alliance made an early contribution to communal fund set up by the security committee and encouraged other organisations and agencies to do the same.

The Alliance activated its Rapid Response Protocol (RRP), used when a human rights crisis has occurred within a country or region and is posing a threat to Alliance Linking Organisations, Implementing Partners and their services and service users.  
The Protocol included a sign-on letter to ministers and prime ministers, working with the international media, postings on social media and engaging particularly with multinational companies with a presence in Uganda. The Alliance approached the global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality campaigning platform All Out about telecoms firm Orange’s advertising in the Red Pepper which had published a list of 200 “top homosexuals in Uganda”. Within one weekend, a quarter of a million people had signed the petition calling on Orange to pull their adverts, which they promptly did.

From “Mapping & appraisal of HIV prevention & care interventions for men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda & Zimbabwe: A report of the SHARP programme”

The Alliance supported regional linkages (both face-to-face and remote) between SHARP partners. This allowed the sharing of South-South technical support and of experiences, successes and challenges, both bilaterally and through SHARP e-fora including a secret Facebook page and WhatsApp.

Lessons learnt

All SHARP countries faced numerous security threats requiring programming to be suspended in all countries at one time or another

  • The security situation can quickly and dramatically change
  • There are no standard responses; we need to follow the lead of in-country partners
  • It is vital to develop mechanisms that are flexible, responsive and ensure a budget allocation