Ensuring more meaningful involvement of people who use drugs

In Indonesia, the human rights of people who use drugs are often violated. My organisation, the Indonesian Network of People who Use Drugs (PKNI), wants to ensure that these people are aware of their rights. We give them a voice and work on bringing about policy changes. Our ultimate aim is to improve the quality of life of people who use drugs, including those who are living with HIV. We feel that the role of PKNI is very important in Indonesia. But it takes lots of energy, time and effort to bring about significant policy changes at the national level. Our advocacy work is not easy, and every now and then the results are quite disappointing.

PKNI’s goal is that people who use drugs are recognised as legitimate stakeholders alongside other community-based organisations, government, and donors. The involvement of this group in the HIV response in Indonesia is still largely limited to that of objects of programmes and policies designed by governmental institutions. They are often merely beneficiaries. A key advocacy issue for PKNI is to change this pattern, and to ensure more meaningful involvement of people who use drugs. As a community we want to be equal partners in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programmes targeting us. 

The meaningful role of people who use drugs community in programmes and policy processes that affect us is essential.

Occasionally, the government consults us. In 2013, for instance, PKNI conducted a monitoring activity to assess the quality of harm reduction programmes in nine provinces, from the community’s point of view. Approximately 30 people who use drugs within each province provided information on their experience with government-provided harm reduction services, including information and services related to HIV and hepatitis C prevention and treatment. This was a mutual initiative of the Ministry of Justice and Corrections, National AIDS Commission, and PKNI. The monitoring results will be used to improve the quality of harm reduction service delivery. This is an encouraging outcome. 

There is another example of challenging advocacy work done by PKNI. A few months ago, Indonesia’s House of Representatives was in the process of drafting a new Law on Mental Health. Article 21 of the proposed draft law classified ‘drug addicts and victims of drug abuse’ as ‘persons with psychiatric disorders/persons with mental health illness,’ a classification that much our community strongly opposes. During the development of this legislation, there had been no public consultation and certainly no engagement of the drug user community. Therefore, PKNI appealed to lawmakers to open a transparent consultation process (this is our legal right!).

Ultimately, after increased pressure on lawmakers from PKNI and the international community , lawmakers suddenly decided to drop the section on people who use drugs from the draft law altogether.  This was a bittersweet success for our community. Unfortunately, our key advocacy ask around having a transparent consultation process on the wording of the draft legislation was never addressed. The meaningful role of people who use drugs community in such processes is essential. For me, reflecting back on this process highlights the often ambiguous results of advocacy, and the difficult challenge to be seen as equal partners by policy makers. The struggle for inclusion and meaningful participation of our community in programmes and policy processes that affect us continues every day. 

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