After three years of making broad regional commitments tackling HIV and AIDS, we as partners and networks from the Asia and the Pacific region met once again this past January 2015 in Bangkok to review the progress of our near finished work and to make some new commitments again at the Inter-Governmental Meeting.
In my opinion, the regional model in cooperation with our partners and network has been fruitful and significant in many aspects. For example, it has helped to strength the resolve of national partners, made information as well as knowledge sharing easier and more effective, and has probably tickled the envious mentality of nations and their leaders (if my neighbour can do it why not me). But more than that, it has helped UN to dole out programmes and initiatives to developing nations waving the “do it because you’re in this region” card. Although to be fair, it hasn’t worked for some countries well.
Before the cynic in me takes over, please allow me to admit that this is a fairly decent approach for all the stated reasons. It has also helped to foster better relationships among different countries. There has been considerable oversight from developed nations during the processes as well. But the success of this model doesn’t hold true for countries that don’t take national decisions based on a regional approach. And that is true for almost all Muslim countries in the Asia.
As a young gay activist coming from a Muslim majority country, we have to go up against many hurdles in our work on HIV and AIDS. From compromising on narratives to conducting field work in the presence of state-and-religion-sponsored homophobic cops, our work in Pakistan has been tough on multiple levels. Moreover the fact that our national HIV working group hasn’t ever included men who have sex with men and transgendered women in their research studies and service delivery, this further tramples our chances for need-based international advocacy as there is absolutely no verified evidence to back our claims with. All of this despite the government of Pakistan signing agreements on ending HIV and AIDS and zealously pledging to the regional causes.
The reason why Pakistan, like many other Muslim nations, falters when it comes to taking decisions like tackling HIV and AIDS despite regional agreements is that Pakistan signs agreements as an Asian nation but works home as a Muslim nation. I raised this point of order in quite some corner meetings and one or two side events repeatedly and requested the UN to organise Muslim nations beyond the regional dialogue and OIC platform. The reason being, Muslim nations feel that an “un-Islamic” and “Western” styled dictum is being imposed on them at such high-level UN meetings. Maybe this is the reason why Pakistan felt the need to add the phrase “in line with the socio-cultural and religious norms” to the phrase “member states pledge to tackle HIV and AIDS” in this IGM 2015. Coming on to a Muslim platform will help each country to realize that their interpretation of Islam isn’t the only one and that the believer of each interpretation feels his is the most accurate. It will also help to showcase the diversity of thought, culture and attitudes within Muslim nations.
Such a platform however must include members of the civil society like the current IGM successfully did. This will allow the civil society to network with each other and build a stronger support. Civil society members are networked very well internationally with organisations working on similar themes and with organisations working in the same region. In Muslim nations, the civil society is often silenced, cornered or not taken seriously as the ‘mob power’ belongs to the religious lobby, and so does the government and the bureaucracy. Muslim nations coming together in the presence of the civil society will allow the civil society to directly influence their countries under the aegis of the UN, and commitments made there may not be backtracked upon.
This is a hypothesis only. But realizing that very slow progress has been made so far in Muslim countries on socially controversial issues, it still deserves a try. Iran, in the current IGM, was still in denial of homosexuality and was looking for a “suitable term” in lieu of men who have sex with men. Iran also wanted the term “key populations” to be replaced by something else. One actually needs to sit in a high level meeting like this to realize how backward our nations are, compared even to their own population and civil society. Unless we allow progressive voices to influence these nations directly, and bring them on a common platform, very little progress will be made. And the most vulnerable populations that is the youth, sexual minorities and women, will continue to be exploited and violated behind the cover of religion.
I am Dr. Muhammad Moiz and this was my experience.