The Advocacy Perspective Sexuality, sex education and The HIVe in support of advocacy around the world

Published: April 15, 2012

Congratulations to this Special Issue of Digital Culture & Education (DCE) entitled ‘Building The HIVe’ for an innovative and unique approach to global HIV and AIDS advocacy, education and research.  Building The HIVe clearly demonstrates the need for digital diversity related to sex education, HIV prevention, and support. It nurtures a strategic network and provides online spaces where ideas can be shared, developed and refined into good practises among researchers, community leaders, academics and policy makers. The HIVe is a digital culture that allows for the “community” to critically and creatively engage with HIV prevention as a solution (Singh & Walsh, this issue). It utilises technology to leverage glo-cal efforts to curb HIV and AIDS infection rates, along with supporting sexual minorities and persons living with and affected by HIV to participate meaningfullly. The advocacy challenge for The HIVe is to engage advocates and activitists of varying skills, knowledge and understanding to ensure the new knowledge produced rapidly influences the policy and programming on HIV, sexuality and sex education across communities worldwide.  At the same time, while we are availing digital technology to strengthen knowledge sharing and exchange, we should all be mindful of how we can support each other to model the acceptance, tolerance and diversity we wish to see in a just world. For us, this means acknowledging that for more effective HIV prevention and education strategies, we now need to educate communities through developing new and innovative platforms for communication in English/dominant and marginalised vernacular languages.
 
Sexuality and The HIVe
 
The core elements of sexuality and sexual diversity are still ill-defined in most communities around the world. In global and country-level debates, we tend to assume  that we all share the same knowledge. Yet, the current dialogue surrounding sexuality omits a crucial piece of the puzzle—the overwhelming stigma faced by most at-risk populations such as gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgenders. This pervasive sociocultural barrier to healthy sexuality leaves high numbers of men and women vulnerable to the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
 
As advocates on the frontlines are only too aware, the singular narrative surrounding sexuality in most cultures has limited the scope with which to engage the global experience of sexual realities and risks.  People who are from every corner of the earth engage in multiple sexual and gendered identities. These identities are now increasingly digitally mediated. How do we explain and educate others on sexual diversity in a digital era? What are the best tactics to disrupt stigma and discrimination which prevent us from talking about sexualities in the first place, especially in digital spaces? The HIVe offers an answer.
 
Stigma and The HIVe

Because stigma and criminalisation of sexual behaviours between gay men, other men that have sex with men (MSM) and transgenders exist in numerous countries around the world, it is difficult to mobilise and sustain community based groups to support each other through affinity.  Too numerous to name, these groups are often marginalised or silenced because their rights-based perspectives can clash with normative public health thinking. These groups are often left out of decision making on policies and programmes. These political barriers hinder the ability to acknowledge, express and discuss  sexualities along with gendered expressions in public and community health. Such closure curtails efforts to improve the quality of prevention, education and support services that can save lives and enhance health, human rights and equity for everyone.
 
Until recently, communities at risk of stigma and denial of sexual rights have been studied through a collection of structural and behavioural interventions whose underlying interconnections to sexuality in the digital world are yet unclear. For instance, we know that reducing HIV risk usually requires reducing stigma and discrimination against gay men, other MSM and transgenders from the wider society, but how do these groups’ various sexual expressions rebound on the richness of society as a whole? On the one hand, there is overwhelming stigma against discussing what should be best left to the privacy of the bedroom. On the other hand, there is overwhelming sexualisation of the body and lifestyles expressed through digital media. Over the last decade, advocates have come to realise that while the explicit introduction of Internet-based health promotion and prevention interventions can greatly improve our understanding of networks and communities, closer attention to the complex dynamics of social and sexual practices is still challenging to integrate into scalable prevention and education models. Given these contradictions, whether a unifying theory is able to explain and integrate simultaneously several empirical patterns to optimise the design and impact of sex education, prevention and community mobilisation is a challenge rendered infinitely more complex in a digital era.
 
With digital technologies to queer norms, disrupt stigma, and discuss educational opportunities, The HIVe captures what has been the aim of advocacy all along: to reinvigorate the traditional approaches to HIV and AIDS education, prevention, care and support globally beyond strategic analysis and one-off capacity building efforts to actual daily work with frontline activists.

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