Intervention during the Thematic Segment on Non-Discrimination of the 31st UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board
I hope my intervention here will make SENSE. I mean this quite literally.
I represent a project partnership on Education, HIV and Non-Discrimination called SENSE – Safe Environment and Non-discrimination in Schools in Ethiopia.
It is a partnership consisting of two Ethiopian organizations – the AIDS Service Organization OSSA and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission – and two Danish Organizations – Save the Children Denmark and The Danish Institute for Human Rights. It is funded by the Danish Government.
When programming SENSE we were addressing local, national and global realities.
Locally, the partners in the project had experienced how stigma and discrimination again and again had been barriers to achieve the full potential of interventions.
Nationally, we could see from the UNGASS national monitoring and reporting by Ethiopia available to us in 2008 that the coverage of psycho-social support for children living with or affected by HIV was very low – at 3.5% at this point of time. This has luckily changed since.
At global level, the Committee on the Rights of the Child had specifically recommended Ethiopia as a state party to the Child Convention to do more to support vulnerable children, including those affected by HIV, and to develop a policy to prevent discrimination against these children. We wanted to support the Ethiopian Government in implementing these recommendations.
The project operates both at the national, regional, local government levels as well as at community level. Due to my time restraints I will focus on the latter.
We have seen a remarkable response to SENSE in the school setting. Children, teachers, school directors and local government have secured a dramatically lowered level of discrimination against school-age children.
Some interventions – like setting up Anti-AIDS clubs or mini media activities – are well-known activities.
We have also seen Humanitarian Clubs, Child Protection Committees – with children initiating income-generating activities to keep their school-mates in school. Teachers have reached out to parents, guardians and the local community to tailor support to the specific needs of every children supported. The teachers have developed their own AIDS funds where they contribute a part of their monthly salary to keep their pupils in education and avoid that they drop-out. Building in complaint handling mechanisms to allow for redress has been successful in the school settings and is an important part of programming non-discrimination.
Let us focus on the results. I would like to mention two:
Firstly, a local government official told us that “We know that SENSE has worked because we have undertaken a mid-term review with government. They measured the reading skills of the third and fourth year pupils. Normally, the vulnerable children cannot read at this stage. In the schools where SENSE was implemented all these children can read”
Secondly, The children and the teachers are not in doubt about the main outcome. Usually children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS drop out of school well ahead of the final exam. In the three years with SENSE support not a single child dropped out of the schools and there was a distinct improvement in their academic performance.
Let me introduce you to some of the children:
There is the 14-year old boy we met who with all that he had learned with his peers about HIV-related stigma and discrimination recognized a gap in the local response. Nobody reached out to the inmates detained in the local prison. Therefore this 14-year old took the initiative to organize a session on HIV awareness raising and sensitization focusing on stigma and discrimination. That was a real commitment to support a key population.
Then there is Azmera – a 14 year old AIDS orphan. She had struggled with staying in school. Now with SENSE she is able to study and her school friends are supporting her so she does not drop out. She now likes going to school and particular loves doing Maths. She has declared she wants to be the first female Ethiopian Astronomer.
Imagine her standing outside her home in the Amhara Region where she lives with her aunt and looking up at the night sky that so fascinates her. She may – as a probing student does – ask the question: What is this universe that I am a part of?
What I can say is that we share the same universe here in Geneva. The participants here at the Board meeting may not have looked at the stars in the sky in the last days as the cloud cover over Geneva has been dense. However, we should not let that “cloud our judgement” – if you allow me this pun.
As a Policy and Accountability Forum, the UNAIDS Board should respond to Azmera’s question by saying we share a “universe of obligation”.
The UNAIDS Board should promote actions that leads to scaling up non-discrimination programmes. This programming is very feasible and very possible – but it demands that we are responsive and innovative towards addressing the dynamics of discrimination.
We can scale-up non-discrimination programmes. It is not necessarily costly interventions and it can have an impact beyond HIV interventions – like promoting broader education outcomes. There really is no reason why we could not have the meaning of SENSE move from:
“Safe Environment and Non-discrimination in Schools in Ethiopia”
“Safe Environment and Non-discrimination in Schools EVERYWHERE!”
Thank you for your attention.