“Canada has pulled away from Africa,” remarked Canadian MP Dr. Keith Martin during the House of Parliament screening of The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage in Ottawa, “and it is appalling.” Though it was buried beneath Canadian coverage of H1N1, the Conservative Canadian government quietly announced that it would slash funding for Canadian International Development Agency (also known as CIDA) programs “that don’t align with government priorities.”
The implications of this decision made by the highest levels of Canadian government emerged front and center through Population Action International and Action Canada for Population and Development’s film screening of Silent Partner through Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage examines the risk of HIV within marriage and the particular challenges facing married women, including harmful gender and societal norms that put women and couples at risk for HIV. Over this past decade, CIDA had promoted integrated programming around issues such as the role of gender and HIV/AIDS prevention. One of the recipients of their support was Men for Gender Equity Now (MEGEN), which works in Kenya to sensitize men on gender equality, gender-based violence and the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
“For many years in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, our efforts at addressing the role of men in HIV/AIDS prevention have been similar to the Kenyan children’s story of the mice who meet to solve the problem of their fellow brethren being killed off by the cat,” remarked Kennedy Odhiambo Otina, coordinator for MEGEN. “All the mice agreed that a bell needed to be tied around the cat’s neck to prevent more of them from being killed – however the question remained – who would volunteer to tie the cat?”
Kennedy credits CIDA’s innovative role in resource mobilization for the success of MEGEN, as their resources allowed his organization to perform outreach and raise culturally-sensitive awareness around issues of gender equity, violence against women, and the need for men to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Over the years, Kennedy’s coordinating of FEMNET’s Men-2-Men programme “has shown that men who are convinced that women are equal partners can be key allies in deconstructing negative attitudes and practices that promote gender-based violence and the spread of HIV and AIDS.”
MEGEN hopes to expand its outreach program to six other countries, including Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda. However, the news that the Conservative government of Canada will no longer be funding projects that sensitize men on equality issues in countries such as South Africa and Kenya, strikes a body blow to holistic governmental approaches to development and HIV/AIDS prevention. When other governments, including the U.S., failed to utilize cross-cutting, integrated approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention, projects like MEGEN were the norm for CIDA’s approach to foreign assistance in Africa. With Canada’s abrupt exit from cross-cutting approaches to foreign assistance across Africa, the United States’ President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) faces an increased emphasis to more fully integrate its HIV/AIDS prevention programs with the realities on the ground.
While groups like Kennedy’s MEGEN continue to provide inspiring, cross-cutting work engaging men on gender equality and prevention of HIV/AIDS, sufficient resource mobilization from foreign governments will continue to be critical in the scale-up and expansion of their successful interactions. However with Canada turning away from Africa, I’m left to ponder and internalize the question from Kennedy’s children’s tale: will the U.S. now step forward left to tie the cat?