Sharing Experiences Across Borders: Alliance India Hosts International Horizontal Learning Exchange on MSM and Transgender Programming and Advocacy

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Last week, Alliance India hosted a four day information sharing and learning exchange for Alliance partner organisations from Mongolia, Myanmar, Kenya and Indonesia. Comprised of discussions, workshops and visits to Pehchan field sites, the Horizontal Learning Exchange on MSM and Transgender Programming and Advocacy provided a rare opportunity for its international participants to share experiences, ask questions and discuss the challenges that they have come across in their own cultural contexts of working with MSM, transgender and hijra (MTH) groups. Discussions centred around a range of issues including those related to capacity building, addressing and overcoming stigma and discrimination experienced by the MTH community, and the methods of working with government partners on MTH and HIV programming.
Day one consisted of oral presentations and workshops such as the one moderated by Ashok Row Kavi in which participants learnt about the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement in India and the sexual and gender differences that exist here and in other participating countries. These sessions, coupled with an informative film screening by Sridhar Rangayan on the social impact of the media’s representation of the LGBT community, led to a thought-provoking discourse on issues of gender, sexual identities and behaviour, and the factors that influence and shape them. These discussions offered participants the opportunity to compare the similarities and differences between how these factors impact the HIV response and the solidarity of the LGBT communities in the unique context of their own countries.
The learning exchange sessions also examined sexual health and HIV prevention-related issues for the MTH community in India as well as in other participating countries. Day two started off by looking at Pehchan’s implementation model and the emphasis that the programme places on community mobilisation, capacity building and collaboration with the National AIDS Control Programme. Once participating countries had shared their experiences in the areas of programming and community mobilisation, they discussed how they could learn from each other about identifying good practices, and the opportunities and barriers to developing effective HIV/STI programming for MSM and transgender communities.
Field visits and direct interaction with key populations enriched participants’ understanding of the Pehchan project. Participants had the opportunity to visit Community Advisory Boards and regional offices set up by Pehchan. On day three, a site visit to one of Pehchan’s community-based organisation (CBO) for MSM, Mitra Trust, offered participants the opportunity to directly learn about CBO development and governance, resource and community mobilisation, and outreach strategies for MSM. Another site visit to a Pehchan Transgender CBO, Kinnar Bharati, enriched participants’ knowledge about the specific issues and challenges – including stigma and discrimination, and its effect on access to essential services – experienced by transgender and hijra communities in India. Participants were also treated to a cultural event organised by the CBO members, which ended day three on an entertaining note. Participants spent the following day sharing their thoughts and feedback on the site visits and ended the Horizontal Learning Exchange by discussing the way forward for each of the countries to work effectively with MSM and transgender communities. 
The organisations that participated in this learning exhange consisted of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO), Rumah Cemara, the National AIDS Foundation Mangolia, and Alliance Myanmar. All the participating organisations, which are Linking Organisations with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, support and develop programmes run by other non-governmental organisations and CBOs in their own countries.
The Horizontal Learning Exchange offered participants an exceptional opportunity to gain invaluable information based on each other’s experiences. Participants left the learning exchange excited to take their own next steps while staying abreast with future plans of other participants. We hope that the learning exchange paved the way for similar information sharing meets to take place in the future, and are excited to see how participants use their newfound knowledge in their own corners of the globe to continue building a world where no one dies of HIV.
With support from the Global FundPehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, SAATHII, Sangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

Alliance India