The Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF) and our long-time partners at Ishtar MSM, hosted Speaking Out, a five-day advocacy training in Nairobi, Kenya. A group of advocates from East Africa rolled up their sleeves to work, exchange, share, learn, envision, and create possibilities for changes through advocacy. Speaking Out is MSMGF’s long-standing advocacy training program which aims to bolster and inspire advocates to work for meaningful change in their communities. Advocating for change requires tools, strategies, targets, skills, but more importantly, it needs dedicated and motivated communities to speak out, organize, and work on the issues that are affecting them.
The unique approach to the Speaking Out training lays in its participatory approach and its adaptive response to the demands from community based organizations. Ishtar MSM had previously hosted Speaking Out local trainings in Nairobi, and had long been interested in holding a regional training to share their own experience and tools with other advocates from the region. MSMGF provided funds and technical assistance from the Bridging the Gaps Program to organize and plan the training. In the spring of this year, Ishtar MSM kicked off the program by having an open call for people to apply. Over 70 people submitted their applications from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda. A select group of 16 gay men and transgender people who showed commitment, experience, enthusiasm, and potential for change were selected to attend the training.
After a two month selection process, participants arrived in Nairobi prepared to learn from others and share their own experiences about challenges, opportunities, and strategies around advocacy. The interactive approach allowed participants to draft their own definition of advocacy based on their own experience in order to agree on a collective definition for the group. They were then able to work on the different steps and processes on developing an advocacy strategy. They used tools and identified issues or problems gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender people face when it comes to accessing health services, education, or violence as well as human rights violence they face because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
They also talked about HIV resources, funding and services available or absent in their communities. As the training moved forward, participants worked on identifying targets, people or organizations that have the power, authority or influence to change or contribute to change the problem. Then they drafted strategies. With an envisioning activity, they celebrated as if they had achieved the change they have worked on for months. This is an inspirational moment for participants during the training because it reminds them of the possibility of achieving the change they have worked hard to attain to impact their communities. They also talked about self-care when advocating for their rights, an important element of the training.
As the training came to a close, the group of advocates had discussed local issues but within a regional perspective; we talked about how local change in a community can also influence and inspire regional initiatives for change across countries. Participants had also drafted their own advocacy strategies as actionable and realistic plans to implement at home. As in any other field, constant trainings and strengthening one’s kills, knowledge and networking is essential to adapt to new challenges, something that Speaking Out aims to support from an adaptive leadership perspective that meets and supports advocates working in their communities.
MSMGF is an expanding network of advocates and other experts in sexual health, LGBT/human rights, research, and policy, working to ensure an effective response to HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men. We are directly linked with more than 120 community-based organizations, across 62 countries.