Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
There can be few more deserving winners of the HIV, TB and Human Rights award from the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) than Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL).
A non-governmental organisation, SWAPOL has been at the forefront of Swaziland’s response to HIV and AIDS for a number of years. While it operates in a politically and legally hostile environment, SWAPOL has succeeded in driving community-based projects and advocacy activities that have created a space and boosted the skills necessary to promote meaningful policy change.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Justice Edwin Cameron of South Africa's Constitutional Court, reflected on some of the lessons that have been learned 30 years into the epidemic and noted that the level of HIV-related stigma and discrimination is still unacceptably high. “As communities, we are connected by the epidemic, but the most important battle we have in the HIV and AIDS response is the battle against stigma and discrimination.”
Reflecting on the AIDS denialism that gripped the South African government at the beginning of the past decade, he added, “We must be able to challenge authority when it is wrongly informed. Therefore I salute ARASA's partners for their bravery in doing the work they do.”
The award was established in 2007 to recognize and support ARASA partners who are carrying out innovative and groundbreaking human rights advocacy on HIV and TB in extremely challenging political climates.
"SWAPOL has worked tirelessly under extremely difficult conditions and despite these challenges have achieved many successes," said Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA.
SWAPOLwas formed in 2001 as a coping strategy for five HIV positive women who were encountering stigma and discrimination from their families and community members. It was initially established as a support group to empower families of HIV positive people to cope, accept and deal with HIV.
However, the group gradually evolved into a professional organisation and was registered and incorporated in 2003, and transformed into an NGO in 2006. SWAPOL - one of the grantees of OSISA's innovative Core Grants Initiative - currently serves 5700 members in support groups in 54 rural communities. This target group includes people living with HIV, orphans and vulnerable children and their families.
“We are glad to receive this recognition and the appreciation of our work by the partnership. It is indeed very humbling," said Cebile Dlamini, Programmes Coordinator at SWAPOL as she accepted the award. "This has been a particularly challenging year for us, given the socio-economic and political climate in our country. In addition, the cut-backs in funding for HIV has had a significant impact on our work."
She added, "An award like this is what keeps us going and gives us hope."
SWAPOL has pursued activities that have supported the cause of human rights and TB/HIV. SWAPOL have advocated for the uninterrupted treatment for PLHIV at a time when the country faced extreme shortages of ARVs in 2011. In addition to drug shortages, they advocated against the limited availability of laboratory reagents for full blood count and CD4 count.
The previous year’s winner, the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) from Malawi - another OSISA grantee - successfully mobilised support for the release of the first openly gay couple (Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga) from a Malawian prison. Rodney Chalera, Programmes Manager at CEDEP handed over the 2011 award to the SWAPOL representatives and added: “Congratulations on your accomplishments. Winning this award has bolstered the work of CEDEP as it has enabled us to gain recognition as an organisation and for the cause of human rights. In addition, we have been able to train journalists on sexuality, HIV and human rights and have convened community dialogues to promote tolerance of marginalised people."ShareThis