"If you can’t get it through the door, you get it through
the window!" With those words, Gabriela Silva Leite urged women attending the
"Breaking Barriers" symposium organized by the Open Society Institute (OSI) in Mexico City to think
creatively about financing to sustain their HIV/AIDS-related work. Silva Leite
is the director of Davida-Prostitution, Civil Rights and Health, an NGO in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that focuses on promoting
and defending the rights of sex workers.
if the PEPFAR-related anti-prostitution pledge had negatively affected her
organization’s funding, Silva Leite remarked that all donors have their own specific policies and interests.
Moreover, these can change over time so it is better for organizations not to
depend on them but to seek more sustainable funding sources. Davida did this by
creating a fashion label called Daspu; the sex workers collaborate with
designers who translate their ideas into concrete fashions. Daspu now is
featured in fashion magazines and forms part of the mainstream Brazilian
fashion scene – this has also led to increased recognition and respect for the
sex workers’ organization.
At the same
panel about making, tracking and spending money, Julia Kim described the IMAGE
Project in South Africa, which has combined a micro-credit financing scheme for
the poorest women in rural communities with an educational component focused on
issues of HIV, violence, and gender bias. Comparative research between
communities that only offered micro-credit and communities that included the
gender empowerment component showed that both interventions tackled poverty but
the latter also contributed to reducing HIV risks and gender equity.
A shared approach
in the Brazilian and South African interventions was the linking of researchers
and community-based organizations. Davida has worked with staff of a business
school to develop Daspu as a business, rather than just a project. IMAGE has
involved researchers in documenting and evaluating the cross-sectoral project
in anticipation of scaling up the intervention.
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panelist, Martha Kwataine, described how the Malawi Health Equity Network has
worked with grassroots groups to help monitor national and district health
budgets. She and others acknowledged that the type of evidence produced by
groups such as IMAGE and Davida can help support advocacy on the importance of
including gender empowerment and financing for women as essential components of
strategies to address HIV/AIDS. We are seeing that women with economic
resources are in a better position to confront situations that put them at risk
– now we must ensure that macroeconomic policies incorporate investment for
women as well.