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Section: Regional
January 2006

Language Barriers imposed by international organizations inhibit participation of Latin-American activism

The recent notice circulated by GNP calling for the nomination of a PLWA representative for the Global Fund Board PLWHA from a developing country, once again raises the problem that only English-speaking activists and PLWA can participate in high level negotiations. Many have raised their voices in protest, highlighting the fact that many of the best activists in the region, and most of the general population, do not have access to education in English. But the even more important issue is that these organizations and the broad sector of the population they represent have effectively been silenced.

Who will the Global Fund Board actually listen to? Only to those few who, mostly due to higher economical status can become bilingual? Or those who best know the problem of HIV and AIDS in the region and have the tools to promote real solutions? It is often an excuse for organizations to blame and exclude many of us for not speaking English, instead of recognizing the need for communication tools that may actually provide the appropriate results.

It is essential that high profile groups, like the Board for the Global Fund, provide the means for ALL it’s stakeholders, not only the donors, to participate in the decisions and discussions that involve and affect them; There must be more effort to provide space to those who need a voice, and not only to those who, for political reasons, already have it.

It reminds me of when as a child you are told not to speak up in grown up conversations, even if you know better what the adults are talking about they do, because it has to do with you, such as education, which school is better, and what you should do with your spare time. This is no way of treating a child, and it is definitely no way to incorporate those who try everyday to stop the deaths and the suffering and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Translation could be a small and cheap step to move towards better communication, towards better answers for our problems, towards taking advantage of the things we can learn from and teach and to each other. Providing translation would allow the Global Fund board move towards being more inclusive and give a voice at high profile organizations, boards and other entities to those who most need it, and to those that really know the reality on the ground.

There are many capable and willing activists in Latin America who would be perfect for the position offered by the Global Fund: they believe in, and need support from the Global Fund, they know how much of a difference it can make for PLWHA in developing countries. They have a pretty good idea of what is needed, they know local stakeholders, they could see in advance many of the barriers that will arise and be able to figure out ways to control and overcome them. They are well prepared and have listened, joined and fought along those in the front lines. Their only “failure” is speaking their own language: the language they actually share with those at home. The question now is: Are the bilateral and multilateral agencies willing to shut their door on them because of this?

Let’s not let them, or at least, let’s not let them allow this to be blamed as the activist’s own fault.

Laura Porras – Agua Buena


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