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Global Forum on MSM and HIV, Speaking Out

Lessons learned

George Ayala, MSMGF5

The basic lesson for us is that different advocacy strategies must be utilized depending on the country or regional context—no one size fits all. We learned very early on that to be most effective, it's absolutely critical to go in with an open mind and listen to what advocates on the ground have to say about their concerns and the constraints under which they do their work.

The initiative has also taught us a lot about the cultural, regional and political differences related to MSM and HIV advocacy across various geographies, and how these factors influence the level of knowledge, skills, experiences, and ultimately, the lives of MSM and transgender people in various settings. We have learned that advocates adapt to their context and utilise resources to create their own unique, tailored ways to address the issues at play in their communities.

In addition, we've seen first-hand how regional differences impact not only how advocacy is carried out, but also the way in which people conduct trainings. For example, at the MENA regional trainings in Morocco, due to safety concerns, trainers and participants made sure not to leave any materials specific to MSM or human rights on tables for hotel staff to see following the sessions.

Remaining Flexible

We've tried to remain flexible throughout the process, and have made adjustments based on our learnings along the way. In the MENA region, for example, at our first training it became clear to facilitators that the original objectives for the session had to be narrowed because most participants had never received any formal advocacy training before.

Lastly, the project has reinforced the importance of advocacy support and advocacy training in general. You can have the best HIV services available at the country level, but so long as stigma, discrimination, harassment and violence against gay men and other MSM persist, those services won't do them much good because they won't be able to access them.

These lessons from the pilot phase of Speaking Out will help us to shape and refine our approach as we move forward. We look forward to updating this Project Tour with more about the impact of the project and additional learnings as our work continues.

Key Facts

Project: Speaking Out

Run by: The Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF), in partnership with various local organisations at the country and regional levels

Region: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) and Central America; with other funders supporting the project in Vietnam, Cambodia and Kenya

Population: Gay men and other MSM; Transgender individuals

Challenges: Stigma and discrimination; policies and programmes that don’t address MSM or transgender people in the context of general HIV outreach; violence and harassment against gay men, other MSM and transgender people; criminalisation of same sex acts, particularly in certain Middle Eastern and North African countries

Activities: Development of a global advocacy tool kit (2009-2010), which was then translated, adapted and contextualised to meet regional and national needs; Implementation of intensive, local training curriculums based on the adapted content; Funding and technical assistance for breakthrough advocacy initiatives conceptualised during the training sessions