Clive Aspin Speech To Pan Pac AIDS Conference
Rapporteur Summary Of Strengthening Leadership Stream
By Clive Aspin, Phd
Throughout my twenty years of involvement in the AIDS sector, I have been struck by the amount of war imagery that gets used when we talk about AIDS – and I have certainly heard my fair share of that at this conference. Dr Irihapeti Ramsden who I referred to in my opening speech cautions us about using such imagery when in fact we should be promoting good behaviour and strong relationships. But maybe this is what accounts for the examples of bad leadership that I have personally witnessed and experienced in the time that I have spent working in this area. Twenty years into this epidemic it is distressing to think that some of our leaders think it is OK to resort to table thumping, shouting and other such bully behaviour if that they don’t agree with someone else’s position. Such behaviour is not acceptable among our leaders because it serves to marginalize the voices of minority people and in this country, that includes the voice of indigenous people. One of the key roles of a good leader is to speak on behalf of the marginalized, the oppressed and the vulnerable, the very people who continue to be most affected by this epidemic. Effective leaders are those who ensure that majority voices do not silence and muffle the voices of the minority
I guess I should not be surprised that my speech to you two days ago met with a very forthright negative reaction. After my talk, my comments were taken out of context, my colleague was led to believe that she was being interviewed by a radio station, her comments were selectively used to discredit mine and within 24 hours a posting appeared on a local website saying that AIDS was not a major problem for Maori, the indigenous people of this country. I couldn’t help noticing that the posting was revised after my second presentation yesterday. It is clear that these forces have been in our ranks at this conference, working behind the scenes. Not one of them has spoken to me directly about my presentations, ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ or face to face as is the Maori way. I note that a journalist from this website is sitting here in front of me today, taking notes. I call on you publicly to stop telling lies and to stop disseminating misinformation about me and about Maori and AIDS.
Two hundred years after the onset of colonization in the Pacific, powerful forces are working to sideline indigenous voices and to define our health status for us. This needs to stop and it needs to stop now. We are capable of defining our own problems and priorities and furthermore, we are also capable of identifying solutions, regardless of what the majority voice thinks. This is a key point that has been eloquently articulated by people at this conference over the last few days and has been a key theme of the leadership stream.
An overriding message from the strengthening leadership stream is that leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the voices of all people affected by the epidemic are heard.
Failure of leaders to recognise and acknowledge minority voices is part of the ongoing colonization of indigenous people throughout the Pacific. At the onset of the colonizing process hundreds of years ago, sexually transmissible infections were heavily implicated in the colonization of the Pacific. It would be a tragedy of mammoth proportions if HIV and AIDS issues were manipulated to ensure the ongoing colonisation and subjugation of communities throughout the Pacific region in the 21st Century.
An important voice that needs to be heard if we are to get on top of this epidemic is that of positive people. Yesterday, we heard an impassioned plea from a positive person to involve positive people at the core of AIDS work. Positive people need to be given training and mentoring so that they can participate fully at all levels of the campaign. While it is important to set up forums to deal with AIDS at the national level, it is essential that these forums have strong participation from positive people. The challenge for us all is to support positive people, to remove stigma and to make it possible for positive people to feel OK about making a public stance so that they can be effective role models. As a positive spokesman reminded us at the end of the strengthening leadership session half an hour ago, “No conversation about us without us.”
Human rights too for people affected by the epidemic must be assured, especially for positive people. This will help to build leadership around the region.
Collaboration across sectors is also vital. Good leaders know how to bring everyone together, to build strong and effective networks so that everybody can play a part in finding appropriate solutions. This includes church leaders and those working in faith based ministries. The challenge for people in this sector is to make it possible for people to talk about sex in an open non-judgmental way. As a speaker from Fiji said, they need to be able to promote condom use and move away from moralizing and judging. There are signs that some church leaders are beginning to take these messages on board but if the robust discussion in this afternoon’s session is an indidation, some churches still have a long way to go. In this session we were reminded that 50% of those infected around the world are women, many of whom were obeying their church leaders by being faithful. Churches need to acknowledge that much sex happens outside marriage and for this reason, they need to promote condom use.
As with any conference, many of the important activities and initiatives take place outside the programmed sessions. It has been encouraging to see groups of people affected by this epidemic taking the initiative and running their own caucuses. These initiatives will lead to important action points that will contribute to ongoing strategies in our struggle to overcome this epidemic and its ravages on our communities. Leadership begins at community level, engages closely with communities and involves communities in finding solutions. I am very pleased to report that a caucus of Maori at this conference met this morning to plan strategies for ensuring that the Maori voice is not marginalized within the AIDS sector. A review of Maori leadership will be fundamental to this initiative.
Another voice that has been marginalized at this conference has been that of the people of West Papua. A group of people have met and have issued a statement on behalf of those affected by the epidemic in West Papua, insisting that they be included and acknowledged as part of the Pacific family of nations
Finally, it is timely for this conference to have focused on the important issue of leadership. The theme of developing new leadership is a major theme of the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto next year. This forum will provide us with an excellent opportunity to continue this discussion and to share the lessons we have learnt in the Pacific with an international audience.
I bid you, our Pacific cousins, farewell and I wish you a safe return to your families and communities. And I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible next year in Toronto.