All Human Beings

The final post in our series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: United Nations.

On December 10, 1948 the newly established General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR). No nation voted against it, although a few, like Saudi Arabia, abstained. That means today is the 70th anniversary of what is undoubtedly the most important document of the modern era, and expressed the aspirations of a world population still reeling from the horrors wrought by fascism during World War II.

The UDHR is a political document – hammered out over two years by a Commission ‘“made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee.”

The preamble begins, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” (That paragraph refers to the “Four Freedoms” speech by President Roosevelt before the US entered World War II, of his vision for the Post-war world.)

If you could sum up the 16 Days of Activism in just 3 words, “freedom from fear” could be it. Not only do a huge proportion of women and girls fall victim to gender-based violence, all women and girls live in fear of it.

Many today argue (as they did in 1948) that Human Rights are not universal, but Western – and that the thought of gender equality is especially Western. But there is  rich literature from every region and culture demonstrating that these ideas have been held by spiritual leaders forever.

Article One begins: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It reminds many of the US Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Apparently in the drafting stage, Mrs. Roosevelt prefered using the language “All men.” So who  got it changed? It was Hansa Mehta of India.

Hansa Mehta

India is a nation where the status of women is exceptionally bad, and its Women’s Rights Movement goes back more than 150 years in its struggle for gender justice. Hansa Mehta was among the 15 women who were part of the constituent assembly that drafted India’s Constitution – (which, unlike the US Constitution, establishes Equal Rights for Women), and she served as president of the All India Women’s Conference in 1945-46 where she proposed a Charter of Women’s Rights.

The Nobel Prize-winning Economist Amartya Sen – a champion of women’s rights – tells the story that men in India frequently come up to him and argue “Our Women Don’t Think This Way!” Sen’s response is – “Well, then it’s about time they had the opportunity to do so!” Certainly, however, millions of Indian women have thought that way for a long time. Had Hansa Mehta not been one of them, its likely the forces of patriarchy would point to the UDHR as a document that reinforces their misogyny.

Women Saving the Earth

Thirteenth in the series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: NASA

December 7, 1972 – On the last Apollo mission to the moon, astronauts took a photo now known as the “Blue Marble” photo – very likely the most reproduced photo in history – the first ever “whole earth” photo.

As a much more recent astronaut – Karen Nyberg, the 50th woman in space — stated: “In the future, I would like to be more of an advocate for animal conservation. Every single part of the Earth reacts with every other part. It’s one thing. Every little animal is important in that ecosystem. [Seeing the planet from above] makes you realize that, and makes you want to be a little more proactive in keeping it that way. If I could get every Earthling to do one circle of the Earth, I think things would run a little differently.

We will not all have an opportunity to go into orbit, and if Karen is right, our planet is the worse off for it. Too many of us interpret the biblical assignment of “dominion over the earth” to mean “domination” rather than “stewardship.” But we can all take action to halt both the violence against women and the violence against the Earth.

Women have been in the lead of the environmental movement from the start. Rachel Carson wrote the 1962 book Silent Spring which many credit with launching the entire global environmental movement. In fact, one of my mentors credits that book with launching women’s ongoing engagement with the UN system to force world leaders to confront global issues. Another high profile woman at the UN was the late US Congresswoman Bella Abzug who co-founded and led WEDO – the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization – which still continues that legacy today.

Chipko Movement, 1973.

The Chipko Movement – known globally as the “tree huggers” in the Indian Himalayas – is an inspiring example of how indigenous (tribal) grassroots women literally put their bodies on the line to preserve the forests from government-sanctioned logging. The modern chipko movement dates to 1973, but it has a history going back, according to Indian Express, to 1730 AD when in Khejarli village of Rajasthan, 363 people of the Bishnoi tribe sacrificed their lives to save khejri trees.

In communities around the world, women have been the traditional guardians of nature. In our lifetime, real champions for the earth have included Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees on public and private land.

In 2017, “the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) brought together indigenous women from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change in their communities and their work towards sustainable solutions.”

There is strong theoretical background linking women’s rights and environmentalism. In 1974, the French feminist Fraçoise d’Eaubonne published her book Le Féminism ou la Mort which linked male oppression of women to oppression of the earth and coined the term Ecofeminism. In 1993, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva published the book Ecofeminism, which carried the analysis further to critique modern science and capitalism as reflecting this same patriarchal mindset.

In his address at the second International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis quoted one of his mentors as having echoed a theme of gender and environmentalism – “God the Father may always forgive you, but if you damage the climate, Mother Nature will kill you!”

Gender-based violence extends beyond the brutality against women and girls, to violence against Mother Earth. We must all take action to protect her.  

Women Fight Corruption

Fifteenth in our series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day. #UnitedAgainstCorruption. According to Transparency International, there are millions of courageous women fighting corruption worldwide.

The United Nations reports that “Every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion is stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 percent of the global GDP. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.”

Public resources are scarce in the most impoverished countries, which generally have very centralized governments – sending a much smaller proportion of public resources to grassroots communities. Add corruption, and the resources for communities to achieve their aspirations becomes even less.

Member organizations of the Movement for Community-led Development invest mightily in developing the capacity of women leaders. Our experience has shown that women leaders fight for the issues that women care about most – education, health care, clean water, public safety – aspirations that are directly thwarted by government corruption.

Consider the example of Deepa Rajguru, who was elected as president of her local council (panchayat) in Rajasthan.

One of Deepa’s most successful initiatives include sanctioning 600 feet of pipeline to bring water to the panchayat, addressing land disputes for which she faced incredible opposition and threats of violence against both her and her family. Without public discussion, the panchayat had contracted with trucks to deliver water at an inflated rate, and Deepa renegotiated to save Rs 72,000 (US$1,400) of public funds.

Are women inherently less corrupt than men? Some have argued that it is too early to tell – perhaps women have simply had less time to master the arts of corruption.

Certainly, the presence of women prime ministers in South Asia has not significantly reduced corruption. These women, however, did not gain office as a result of expanded gender equality, but rather as a result of being at the head of a family political dynasty.

However, new research published in 2018 shows the reality: “In a cross-country analysis of over 125 countries, this study finds that corruption is lower in countries where a greater share of parliamentarians are women. The study further finds that women’s representation in local politics is important too — the likelihood of having to bribe is lower in regions with a greater representation of women in local-level politics in Europe.”

Member organizations of the Movement for Community-Led Development have strong “Zero Tolerance” policies against corruption. Our commitment is to restore people’s control over their own lives and destinies. Corruption is a barrier to that fundamental human right which must be ended.

Is God a Feminist?

Fourteenth in my series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo – public domain – of the painting by Francisco Rizi.

December 8 is observed by some Christians as the “Feast of the Immaculate Conceptionand honors Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Mary plays a major role in both the Christian New Testament and in the Holy Koran.

Throughout the ages, religion has been twisted to justify a broad spectrum of ungodly behavior – and perhaps most tragically – violence against women. From the Salem Witch Burnings of 1693, to ritual suicide of widows in India (Sati)  to the kidnapping and rape of school girls in Nigeria – some of humanity’s worst behavior has been done in God’s name.

If you are reading this, you would probably agree that violence against women and girls in all forms is “an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”

But is God feminist? That’s actually a fascinating question.

First – what is a feminist? Is it merely someone who believes in gender equality? No. It requires the recognition that inequality is not simply an accident of history – it is based on intentional injustice that must be countered. As my college dorm-mate, the feminist bell hooks wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Ten years later, she expanded on that definition in Feminism is for Everyone, “I love [that definition] because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it would be naive and wrong minded for feminist thinkers to see the movement as simplistically being for women and against men. To end patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism), we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts, until we let go of sexist thought and action and replace it with feminist thought and action.”

Second – what is God? There is today a movement within virtually every religious tradition known as Feminist Theology. There is a website – “Feminist Theology 101” – that I highly recommend. Its authors emphasize that Feminist Theology is a “highly diverse ‘umbrella’ term, and we revel in the diversity.”  And the site emphasizes that “feminist theological scholars seek to address the social problems and structures of oppression of their day.”

My personal introduction to this subject was while in college when another school friend wrote her thesis on female aspects of divinity with  “Mary and Isis.”

But it became even more interesting about 15 years ago in a conversation in Bangladesh with one of The Hunger Project’s local volunteers who explained to me – with great confidence – that Islam IS the religion of women’s liberation. She understood the Koran to say that women were three times more powerful than men, and that all the current misogyny among current practitioners is left-over from pre-Islamic Arabic culture.

Certainly, every concept of the divine I’m aware of appears to reflect our deepest aspirations for compassion, justice and equality. That spells feminism to me.

Guns make gender-based violence deadly.

Twelfth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo by by ZhengZhou of the sculpture “Non-Violence” by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, in front of UN headquarters at New York City.

December 6, 1989 was the Montreal massacre – a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique  specifically targeting feminists. Since then, December 6 has become a National Day of Remembrance, and has mobilized the Canadian gun control movement as well as the movement to end male violence against women. Their activism led to Canada’s federal government establishing the Panel on Violence Against Women in August 1991, and passage of Bill C-68, or the Firearms Act, in 1995, ushering in stricter gun control regulations.  

This spirit of remembrance and activism is continued by the “White Ribbon Campaign” in which men wear a white ribbon as a “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”

TheTrace.org is a non-profit news service on gun violence in the United States. It provides a fact sheet – 12 Facts That Show How Guns Make Domestic Violence Even Deadlier. It states “domestic violence claims at least 2,000 lives each year. Seventy percent of the victims are women. More than half of the time, the weapon used to carry out an ‘intimate partner’ homicide… is a gun.” When guns are involved in domestic violence, they also kill numerous children as well as the police responding to the incidence.

From TheTrace.org

While the US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, there is currently a flood of “surplus” small military arms entering countries everywhere, particularly in Africa. To counter this, there is IANSA – the International Action Network on Small Arms. For example, it supports the African Union (AU) “Gun Amnesty Month” each September, to help collect some of Africa’s millions of illicit small arms and light weapons – giving citizens a chance to turn them in without fear of prosecution. It is part of the AU’s larger “Silence the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020.

Clearly, there is a link between overcoming the toxic masculinity that finds a misguided security in keeping handguns in the home, the importance of common-sense gun safety legislation and developing a culture of gender justice that respects the human rights of every woman and girl. On this National Day of Remembrance – whether Canadian or not – we can each learn more on how we can transcend patriarchy in our communities and our world.

International Volunteer Day

December 5 is International Volunteer Day (IVD). In 2018, the theme for this day is “Volunteers build Resilient Communities,” recognizing volunteers worldwide – with a special focus on local community volunteers – who contribute to making their communities more resilient against natural disasters, economic stresses and political shocks.

Women represent 57% of volunteers globally so this is also a day on which we celebrate women’s contributions to community resilience (SWVR 2018,14). According to the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report published by the UN, “women are often the architects of community resilience, and empowering women is critical to ensuring that community-led disaster responses are strong and effective” (47).

Women and other marginalized groups are also “disproportionately vulnerable to crises,” (SWVR 2018, 50) and may be particularly relied upon to respond to community crises given their prevalence as informal volunteers. Volunteering can constitute a mutual aid response to the structural violence that makes girls and women more likely to die in disasters than men. Their accurate perception of this heightened risk also makes women more likely to engage in disaster-preparedness work. For instance, women’s grassroots organizations in Nepal have been leading the volunteer effort to improve settlement infrastructure in preparation for environmental disaster in consultation with local government. Their volunteering has brought them local recognition as experts and invitations to serve in committees that allocate resources to mitigate risk.   

On December 5, you’re invited to celebrate International Volunteer Day (IVD) with a forum on volunteerism with experts from the United Nations and the service community in Washington, DC, including Wes Moe of Volunteer Groups Alliance, Dominic Allen of UN Volunteers, Mei Cobb of United Way Worldwide, and Michael Moscarelli of Partners of the Americas. 

The event is a celebration of the impact of service on empowering communities and strengthening their internal cohesion and inclusivity, as well as the DC launch of the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018. The host, the Building Bridges Coalition, is a consortium of leading organizations working collaboratively to advance the quality, impact, and scale of international volunteering.

Community-led development is fueled by acts of service – volunteering is a form of civic participation and can be a route to greater coordination with local government. The UN recommends that governments at all levels create spaces that facilitate volunteerism and provide formal recognition of local volunteers. During these 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, we recognize how women are responding to their greater vulnerability within increasingly common and severe natural disasters through service to their communities.      

The Pill vs Gender-based Violence

Tenth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: iStock.com/araoraor

December 4 – On this day in 1961, Britain’s National Health Service first made oral contraception available. Despite opposition from the Catholic Church and some other religious groups, a 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 99% of all women of reproductive age who have ever had sex—including 98% of Catholic women—have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning.

A Harvard Study in 2002 demonstrated the “power of the pill” to give women greater power over their careers and marriage decisions.  

Despite near universal acceptance by women – and demand worldwide that exceeds supply – suddenly during the 2012 US Presidential Campaign, some conservative politicians began saying that contraception is controversial. Melinda French Gates, a lifelong Catholic, expressed shock that contraception could possibly still be controversial. In her keynote address at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, she stated: “Helping women gain access to contraceptives saves lives. It improves the health of mothers and children. It increases children’s school attendance. It leads to more prosperous families. At the national level, it has even been linked to GDP growth.” And she announced an increase of her foundation’s commitment to family planning to $1 billion by 2020.

That 2012 Summit launched the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Campaign. Its July 2018 progress report shows usage of modern contraceptives had increased by 17% in its 69 focus countries.

The political controversy around contraception is the tip of a more complex and deadly iceberg. The underlying issue is the patriarchal mindset that believes, at some level, that women are the property of men and that they do not have sexual and reproductive health rights. This same mindset underlies the belief that men have the “right” to beat their wives.

There are studies that show that gender-based violence (GBV) leads women to not use contraception – leading to more unwanted pregnancies – which can lead to unsafe abortions. Research in Vietnam explores this pathway – including the fact that unsafe abortions accounted for 11% of the deaths of women of childbearing age.

The World Health Organization, UNWomen and UNFPA have drafted an addendum to their clinical handbook on health care for women subjected to GBV, empowering contraception providers to detect the warning signs of GBV.

In July of this year (2018), the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council achieved major international progress for women and girls.  The Council recognized the right to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) for the first time ever in a Geneva or UN politically-negotiated document.  It urges universal access to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services. And there were also resolutions for the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM)  and for accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Overcoming patriarchy – and the violence and destruction it causes – involves transforming social conditions that have been deeply entrenched for thousands of years. We are fortunate to be living at a moment when – despite some dramatic patriarchal backlash – the efforts of so many courageous feminist leaders are finally resulting in progress towards gender justice.

Halting Sexual Abuse of People with Disabilities

Ninth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: The Hunger Project-Bangladesh

December 3 is the International Day for People with Disabilities. According to the Minnesota website DisabilityJustice.org, “People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities.” The site reports that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives, and just 3% of those cases will be reported. Half ot these women have been assaulted more than 10 times. 50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing.

At the beginning of 2018, NPR news began reporting on this “sexual assault epidemic no one talks about,” focusing on individuals with intellectual disabilities – where assault rates occur at 7 times the rate they do against people without disabilities – 12 times the rate for women.

The 2030 Agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 – make a global commitment to “leave no one behind.” Today, the United Nations is issuing its “UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018 – Realizing the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities”.  The report highlights the growing number of good practices that can create a more inclusive society in which people with disabilities can live independently.

Independence could prove crucial for halting sexual abuse. NPR found that the predators attacking people with disabilities were often their caregivers. Most caregivers in institutions are loving people, but for someone who is a predator, the situation is ideal – with individuals under their care totally dependent.

The Movement for Community-led Development is made up of groups working to empower all people to be authors of their own development – including those living with disabilities. Several of its members have received the Disability Inclusion Award from InterAction, which is the association of International relief and development NGOs based in the US. For example:

  • Mercy Corps addresses the special needs of the 10% of people with disabilities among refugees crossing from Syria into Jordan. Here is a heartwarming story of their success in enabling a 15-year-old girl with severe physical disabilities to return to school.
  • World Vision has published this guide on Best Practices in Disability Inclusion. For example, they recognize that the ability to provide wheelchairs is only part of the solution for those who need them. “It takes community engagement to not only support service provision but also ensure inclusive societies and environments.” They have also used the Citizen Voice and Action social accountability tool to support people with disabilities in six countries to demand appropriate services.

Other Movement members have teamed up with organizations with special technical skills in the inclusion of people with disabilities. For example, CBM International works with The Hunger Project, Save the Children and others applying its Community-based Rehabilitation approach to disability inclusive community development.

While the situation of abuse of people with disabilities is heartbreaking, addressing it in the era of the SDGs is gaining more and more international focus. To learn more, see:

Community Action to End Modern Slavery

Part 8 for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: iStock.com/Favor of God

December 2, 2018 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Modern-day slavery is appallingly widespread. According to the UN more than 40 million people are in forced labor, including 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.

What can be done? In November 2016, a new legally binding Protocol by the International Labor Organization (ILO) designed to strengthen global efforts to eliminate forced labor, entered into force. A global campaign is underway – The 50 for Freedom campaign – which aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labor Protocol by the end of 2019. To date, 27 have done so – and their website invites you to help petition the leaders of the world.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report by the US State Department highlights community action as an essential component of this global challenge. It states “National governments cannot do these things alone. Their commitments to this issue are more effectively realized in partnership with the communities that face it, including local authorities, NGOs and advocates, and individual community members who are often the eyes, ears, and hearts of the places they call home.”  The TIP report notes success stories in Nigeria, Nepal and in the US where local communities were key in intervening to halt trafficking.

During last September’s #JusticeForAll campaign, Holly Burkhalter of the International Justice Mission (IJM) published the example of the Released Bonded Laborers Associations (RBLAs). Organized in five districts of Tamil Nadu, India, RBLAs are made up of survivors of modern-day slavery in India. Although bonded labor is illegal in India, Burkhalter reports that 13.3 to 14.7 million people are literally slaving away in brick kilns, rice mills, textile factories and rock quarries across the country. Many have been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles from their homes by the traffickers – a strong barrier to their escape.

Burkhalter writes that the RBLAs “make an inestimable contribution to helping reintegrate newly released men, women and children into their home communities, which is essential for the restoration of people who may have been enslaved their entire lives.  The RBLAs, who have received training and support from International Justice Mission, the Madras School of Social Work, the Foundation for Sustainable Development (a grassroots association of scheduled tribes and castes) and others, help newly-released laborers to secure livelihood opportunities, enroll children in school, and link their communities to government services.”

Namati is an organization that trains “grassroots legal advocates” – sometimes called “barefoot lawyers” or “community paralegals.” It supports a network of organizations like IJM that share this approach.

Child sex slavery is perhaps the most horrific aspect of modern slavery, and illustrates how international interventions like the TIP report and local community advocacy can work together to make a difference. In the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, they tell the story of “Svay Pak, a Cambodian village that used to be one of the notorious places in the world for sex slavery. On Nick’s first visit, brothels there had seven- and eight-year-old girls for sale.” After the US State Department strongly criticized Cambodia in its TIP report – and IJM opened an office there, he reported seeing only 10% as many. “This is a sign,” they write, “that progress is possible.”

HIV/AIDS is Gender-based Violence

Part 7 for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

December 1, 2018 – World AIDS Day: In the 1980s, the first cases of AIDS were a shock to everyone. It took months for top researchers to understand it. In Africa, where the pandemic became most widespread, the campaign to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS forced both women and men in rural and urban communities to rethink gender roles and other traditions that had prevailed for thousands of years.

Gender fueling the spread of HIV. In Africa, while males do not necessarily have any more sexual partners in a lifetime than men in other regions, they tend to have them concurrently. And women were socially conditioned to not say “no” to sex. In addition, in some areas, sex was part of traditional rituals.

Communities take up the challenge. In such situations, and particularly in a largely rural society, mere “messaging” is never enough. Organizations such as those in the Movement for Community-led Development, needed to launch massive campaigns to provide accurate education about HIV/AIDS to grassroots community leaders – or “animators” – who in turn would educate all the members of the community.

Beyond the Facts: While having people know the facts is crucial, it has also been necessary to create spaces where community members can analyze their own situation – identify their own barriers to halting the spread of HIV (basically their own gender analysis) -and launching their own solutions. In some cases, community members created solutions that the NGO community organizers would have never imagined. Here are some examples from Malawi, which has a high infection rate:

  • One group of women complained that they needed a way to control the use of condoms themselves. The animators had no idea there were such things as female condoms, until they contacted the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and discovered such things did exist but “nobody wanted to use them.” The women were provided female condoms and – since they had asked for them – they felt they had “invented” them. They publicized them throughout their communities – spreading the word that “sex was better with them than with male condoms.”
  • In another village, there was a closely held tradition of cleansing the “spirit of death” from a home after a man had died, by having someone have sex with the widow – an obvious disaster when the man died of AIDS. The elders said “we have to remove the spirit of death” but concluded they could create a “new tradition” of having a married couple of that family have sex in the home.
  • Campaigns were held to promote voluntary testing and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, which was widely successful but was not taking hold in one community, with no explanation. The community members carried out some very private interviews, and learned that the local health workers was not being confidential about test results. He was fired, and the community animators informed everyone that in the other communities there had been no problem with confidentiality, and trust was restored.

Living Positively: Initially, microfinance groups in Malawi were reluctant to loan to HIV-Positive people, on the assumption these people would not have long to live – despite the fact that ARVs were becoming widely available. To overcome this stigma, “Living Positive”with HIV support groups were established, and microfinance organizations reserved a special part of their capital for loans to those groups.

Investing in Community Health. The massive international effort to fight HIV/AIDS initially had the unfortunate side effect of pulling the already-scarce health professionals out of the community health system to focus on HIV/AIDS. Now, the world is coming to recognize that even “single disease” campaigns must intentionally focus on strengthening the overall community health system, and engage community members every step of the way.

Ownership and agency. As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, whatever action we contemplate, we must think of the face of the poorest person we have ever seen, and ask ourselves whether the action we take will restore her to control over her own life and destiny. Applying this wisdom has proven invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa – it was proven again in the response to Ebola (link) and Malaria (link) – and it is a mandate we must apply to all development activities.