By Wednesday, everything was running much more smoothly and the discussions were really getting going. We had a very nice Pleasure Project workshop together with SUPPORT. The room was full, and people laughed and had a good time while learning about a pleasure approach and condoms. But probably even more interesting to me is the continued buzz our workshop created – people have been talking about it over breakfast, in the corridors, and coming up to me to ask for more information. And that, the fact that it has stayed in people’s minds, is the biggest sign of success for me.
There were some reasonable plenaries on Wednesday as well… nothing I felt overwhelmingly excited about, and in fact, I would’ve preferred to see some of the plenary sessions turned into concurrent sessions, so we’d have more choice about what to attend. With 5-6 sessions happening at each concurrent session, there were always 2 or 3 you wished you could’ve attended.
Yesterday was definitely the highlight of the conference so far. The first plenary was on “where is the funding”, at which I learned that the Global Fund is concerned about including gender and sexuality as priorities in their grantmaking, and they’re encouraging countries to include more about these issues in their proposals. The day also included a debate about criminalization that was interesting, but I think it would’ve been more useful if they linked the debate about criminalizing sexual identity/acts to that of criminalizing HIV transmission.
There was a concurrent session in the main hall on masculinity, which was good fun but could’ve gone a bit deeper. Aernout Zevenbergen presented about his book and about men telling their stories, which is a concept I’m quite interested. I would’ve been happy to hear more about the power of narrative and story telling, but time was simply too short. Sunday from Nigeria presented on his work with female condoms and involving peer educators… again, an interesting presentation, but still with many questions. And maybe that’s one of the conclusions of the panel – we’re now starting to talk about “involving men” and “masculinities” but we may not really be sure of the best way to go about it. Something to contemplate as we move forward, as “male involvement” seems to be one of the hot buzz words of the moment.
I also attended a concurrent session on “the law”, which was truly fantastic. One presenter talked about the effect of the constitution in South Africa, and two talked about sex workers. The second presentation on sex workers included two stories from sex worker activists themselves, which was fantastic. This is what I would like to see more of at conferences – real people’s stories connected to concrete action and recommendations. The audience was moved (I think that it was the first time that some people had knowingly been sitting in the same room as a sex worker) and I think some people really questioned the way they view sex work. All in all it was a great session.
I’m sure that there is more to add, but now I have to run off to the last sessions – first up today is one on Pleasure & Desire, chaired by our friend Dorothy from INCREASE. I can’t wait to see how it goes!