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NZAF Board: Modifying men's sexual behaviour is the key

Sun 6 Aug 2006 In: HIV View at NDHA

The NZ AIDS Foundation's Constitutional Review must aim for an organisation that is, above all, effective in stemming the transmission of HIV. There are other objectives, but that is key. That reduces itself at this time and in this place to this question: What kind of organisation will be able to convince men who have sex with men to modify their sexual behaviour? Now, it is damnably difficult to convince any population to change its behaviour, especially sexual behaviour, and extra-specially if the target population is men who have sex with men—because, after all, they are characterised above all by their rejection of control over their sexual behaviour by the dominant groups in society. Men who have sex with men will accept advice to alter their sexual behaviour only if they have a sense that they and people like them control or own the programme. And so, if the AIDS Foundation is to stem the transmission of HIV, men who have sex with men must feel they control or own it. This does not require extreme, absolutist or exclusive control. We must welcome many partners. We must encourage, support and fund different at-risk communities to establish their own programmes and their own organisations, inside the AIDS Foundation or outside it, with their own boards, or with members of their community on our board, or not—or both. The arrangements for each community will vary, and change over time. The behaviour of other communities, too, can be modified only if they own their programmes. But if the AIDS Foundation is to address the main mode of HIV transmission, it must have a clear gay male preponderance in its governance, management and staff. This does not merely mean we've got to have a lot of men who have sex with men in the organisation. What we need are board members and managers and staff who understand why, in our present situation, it must be a gay-centred organisation, who are responsive to the changing moods of the gay communities, and who the gay communities have a trust in and a sense of ownership over. Such a sense of ownership cannot be faked. There can only be a sense of ownership when there is ownership in fact, which necessarily implies ultimate power—governance that is in practice democratically responsible to a predominantly gay constituency. There is a lot of angst about a false problem—the so-called problem of members of the staff voting for their own employing board. Actually the AIDS Foundation might have been better served in recent times by a board of staff members. In fact there are many institutions (such as universities) that have a large staff component on their bodies of governance. And how can we ensure that we get the right individuals on the board? Arbitrary lists of skills and quotas for defined communities are ineffective bureaucratic attempts to solve political problems. Most of the necessary listable skills are better purchased in the form of professional advice. The real skills required are such difficult-to-assess qualities as leadership, strategic capacity, and community relationships. And which skills are necessary varies anyway, from year to year, as will the optimal balance of representation from different parts of our communities and from other communities. There is no perfect solution. Any system will produce varied results. Probably the most practicable approach is to have a two-tier structure of governance, with a delegated annual meeting where staff give presentations, where strategies are debated, and where the requirements of governance are discussed—the kinds of people who might be elected, the kind of balance that might be struck between different constituencies, skills, ethnicities, and HIV statuses. The discussions of that delegated annual meeting should be long enough that participants get to know each other and each other's qualities and foibles. And at the end of each annual meeting half the board should be elected for a two-year term. Bill Logan is a Wellington-based counsellor who was highly active in the campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. He maintains an informal watching brief over the NZ AIDS Foundation and, despite occasionally disagreeing with its policies and programmes, was this year made an Honourary Life Member of the Foundation. He, along with others, was strongly critical of the NZAF Board last year, those criticisms lead to the current Constitution Review. Bill Logan - 6th August 2006    

Credit: Bill Logan

First published: Sunday, 6th August 2006 - 12:00pm

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