Interview with Zelda Nhlabatsi – Executive Director of Family Life Association of Swaziland and Chair of the Swazi Country Coordinating Mechanism

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The following is an interview that was conducted on May 7, 2015 at the Partnership Forum in Addis Ababa by W4GF Programme Coordinator, Ms Sophie Dilmitis with Ms Zelda Nhlabatsi from Swaziland. Ms Nhlabatsi is the Executive Director of Family Life Association of Swaziland, as well as a W4GF advocate, who participated in the very first W4GF Global Workshop in July 2013, as well as the W4GF Africa Workshop in December 2013.  

Q: Last time we spoke you had just become chair of the CCM – How has that been for you?  What challenges have you faced?  How is the environment to advance gender equality?

It’s been a steep and challenging learning curve. When I became Chair of the Swaziland Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM), my first task was to adjust our governance systems ensuring we would be eligible for funding. The experience made me realise how important the Global Fund is for my country for the coordination of the three diseases and how much countries can learn from Global Fund processes.

Even though the priority was to ensure our governance was in good shape there were some voices that did not appreciate this process and perceived it as a delay to receiving the funding. As a woman – I needed to be strong and not be discouraged and to guarantee that everything was working well. I feel the pressure as I am still running my own organisation and being the CCM Chair is almost a full time job, especially around the concept note development process. However, the job is made lighter by the structures we have set up. In addition to a supportive vice chair who leads on many processes – we also have sub committees that move work forward.

In terms of gender – gains have been made. Our National Strategic Plans have considered gender. The UNAIDS gender assessment tool has been used. I also made sure that the core team drafting the concept note included people with gender expertise. Including gender was never contested but it required constantly reminding people that gender sensitive programming is essential. This was something I advocated for especially as I have a strong focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Technical Review Panel (TRP) comments on our submitted concept note were to strengthen elements on key populations such as sex workers – given that our HIV prevalence is around 70% for sex workers.  Other than that the concept note went through the TRP relatively quickly and we went straight to grant making.


Q: How has this Global Fund Partnership Forum been for you so far?

There were so many people who wanted to speak – advocating for their own agendas.  I did not get the opportunity to speak but I wanted to make the following three interventions:

  • Country ownership: The work of the CCM should have more visibility, as we need to strengthen important partnerships between government, development partners and civil society. Going through the concept note writing and grant making process gave us a deeper understanding of what is happening in our own country and consolidated where we are. We must strengthen the CCM and activities that promote the CCMs role and visibility.
  • Investing for Impact: As we invest for impact we need to address the underlying issues that fuel the spread of the HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria such as gender inequality and other inequalities facing all people especially amongst young people and key populations – If we don’t address these core issues we will be ‘trimming the leaves off the trees but leaving the roots to continue to grow’.
  • Community Systems Strengthening (CSS): The definition of CSS needs to be strengthened and contextualised according to our countries – this needs to be about the people and their way of life in country.


Q: What key issues around gender do you want to come out strongly in the new Global Fund strategy?

Ending the three epidemics must remain the main goal and should be supported by other Global Fund objectives.  I am okay with what has been proposed but the strategies of implementing the objectives remain important. One example is around the sustainability – as countries transition out of the Global Fund.  The Global Fund needs to do what it can but my country has other different priorities in terms of development.  Swaziland is a middle-income country yet we have over 63% poverty so this classification is challenging.

The lack of clarity around what CSS is problematic for civil society and for women. Historically – Swaziland has always had one Principle Recipient (PR), which was the National AIDS Council but this year we also have a civil society PR for the HIV grant. Whilst this is great we are dealing with elements of community strengthening that need deeper investment. Out of 52 million for HIV the PR is receiving about 4.9 million.  

Gender was integrated across what we programmed for but it featured most in the HIV component where there is also a pillar for gender based violence. In the CCM we do not specifically have a person representing women and girls although I am a gender champion for example and we have individuals who are sensitive to gender issues. Key and affected populations are well represented but perhaps we could consider having a gender champion in future!


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