Regional Feature: The GWL-INA: the formation of a national network of gay men, transgender and MSM in Indonesia

Regional Feature: The GWL-INA: the formation of a national network of gay men, transgender and MSM in Indonesia

HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 2 | October 2012

SALINA ABIGAIL traces the development of community involvement in Indonesia’s HIV response.


In October 2005, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) funded a needs assessment for gay men, men who have sex with men (MSM) and waria (transgender)1 communities in Indonesia. The study found that these communities were extremely marginalised and were at high risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmissible infections (STIs).2

The study also indicated that less than 10% of the total estimated number of openly or identifiable gay men, MSM or waria community members had access to HIV and STI prevention and care and support services.3

In response to these findings, in 2007 a group of gay men, MSM and waria came together to establish a network of community organisations to help foster an enabling environment to support the scale-up of HIV prevention and care programs for gay men, MSM and waria communities in Indonesia.

The GWL-INA4 network is an advocate and coordinating body that helps strengthen the capacity of community organisations to ensure that the issues and needs of gay men, MSM and waria in Indonesia are reflected in the development and implementation of domestic HIV and AIDS related programs and policies.

Today, GWL-INA is a national network with 68 community-based organisations in 25 provinces listed as members.

Any gay, MSM or waria organisation or group that implements HIV/AIDS programs in Indonesia is able to join, and members are not required to pay any membership fees or sign any agreements or contracts.

This article provides snapshot of the history of GWL-INA since its inception. The text is drawn primarily from The GWL-INA: The Story of A Network a report developed by GWL-INA and Salina Abigail, an Indonesian consultant, with support from AFAO and the Alliance Technical Support Hub for South East Asia and the Pacific.

Printed copies of the report will also be distributed to other nascent networks throughout Indonesia and the Asia region.

Giving communities a voice

Indonesia is home to over 17,000 islands and over 200 million people.5 It is the fourth most populous country in the world6 and one of the most culturally diverse, with a great variety of local cultures and hundreds of local languages and dialects.

Although Indonesia has a history of tolerance towards homosexuality, in recent years the rise of fundamental religious groups has contributed to an increase in homophobia and violent actions against gay men, MSM and waria communities.

Many gay and waria activists report that daily raids and physical abuse of gay men, MSM and waria is a common occurrence.

Gay, MSM and waria groups and organisations – especially in small cities – regularly receive threatening letters. Reporting to the police has proven to be useless, as the police only request payment for their protection.7

Living in such a conservative community, gay men, women and waria in Indonesia are subjected to constant humiliation and abuse.

It is difficult for gay men to ‘come out’ to their families and they often lead a double life – being married to a woman while secretly having sex with other men – to avoid being shunned by their families and community.

The establishment of the GWL-INA network is considered a key event in the national gay, MSM and waria movement. When the GWL-INA was first established, very little programming existed specifically for gay men, MSM and waria. Now, for the first time ever, these groups have a voice in the coordination of Indonesia’s national HIV response.

As a member of the National AIDS Commission (NAC), the network has gained the respect and attention of the Indonesian government and has developed a National Strategic Action Plan that complements the existing 2010–2014 AIDS National Strategy and Action Plan, providing clear guidance for the development and implementation of HIV and AIDS response programs targeting gay, MSM and waria. With other civil society groups, the network has also launched a joint advocacy campaign on the rightsof people living with HIV (PLHIV).

HIV surveillance data

HIV in Indonesia continues to spread at an alarming rate, with men who have sex with men being disproportionately affected.

Many of these men do not have adequate access to information on HIV because, historically, the government has not been very active in distributing information to these communities.

The most recent Integrated Biological- Behavioural Surveillance (IBBS) 2011, carried out by the Ministry of Health, identified that HIV prevalence among MSM in Indonesia has almost tripled over the last four years – rising from5.3 % in 2007 to 12.4% in 2011.8

There has been a slight decrease in HIV prevalence among waria, from 24.3% in 2007 to 23.2% in 2011. For both MSM and waria, however, there has been an increase in rates of syphilis (from 4% to 13% for MSM and 27% to 28% for waria).9

Despite these challenges, improvements have been made. Compared to findings from IBBS 2007, the IBBS 2011 found increased condom use among MSM and waria, from 28% to 32% (MSM) and 37% to 41% (waria).10

Funding for HIV and AIDS programs targeting gay, MSM and waria has also increased. However, the majority of funding still comes from foreign donors.

The GWL-INA network has helped empower gay, MSM and waria organisations to build a strong foundation which has enabled them to secure sustainable funding from other sources, including AusAID, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Network activities

The GWL-INA was declared a network on 4 February 2007. Initially, membership of the network consisted only of an e-group. Four key people (Dede Oetomo, Tono Permana, Sarjono Sigit, and Poedjiati Tan) maintained the momentum by moderating the online discussions. Tono and Dede were particularly instrumental in mobilising the resources needed for the network to grow.

In October 2009, the GWL-INA held its first National Meeting, where Tono Permana Muhammad was elected as the network’s first national coordinator.

At the time of the network’s establishment, very little programming existed specifically for gay men, MSM and waria. Not enough resources were allocated for these population groups.

In the five years since its establishment, the GWL-INA has been working very hard to reverse this situation.

GWL-INA’s activities have focused heavily on building the internal capacity of the network, and improving the outcomes of HIV program implementation for gay men, MSM and waria.

The network developed the National Strategy and Action Plan for Gay, Waria, and MSM 2010–2014, which complements the 2010–2014 AIDS National Strategy and Action Plan and provides clear guidance for policy makers and stakeholders in developing and implementing HIV and AIDS response programs for gay, MSM and waria groups.

Tono Permana Muhamad presented the action plan in the first plenary session at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP10) in Busan, South Korea.

The GWL-INA formally became a member of the National AIDS Commission (NAC) in February 2012. This is a huge achievement for a country as conservative as Indonesia, as it means that, for the first time gay, waria and MSM populations are recognised nationally and sit in equal positions as ministries and government agencies.

As a member of NAC, the GWL-INA network participates in consultation and coordination meetings on the national HIV response.

The increase in HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men, as found in the recent IBBS, has prompted the network to put an even greater emphasis on HIV prevention programs for gay, waria and MSM.

An example of this is the ‘GWL-Muda’ (Young GWL) group, established in January 2012 to target young gay, waria and MSM. The group developed ‘brondong manis’, a web-based information centre designed to equip young gay, waria, and MSM with adequate information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, assertive communication and negotiation, drugs, and linkages to health services.

The website ( also serves as a dating portal for young gay men, MSM and waria.

The GWL-INA network also carries out advocacy campaigns with other civil society groups. One example is ‘ODHA berhak sehat’ (, campaign about HIV-positive people’s rights to health, jointly undertaken with Indonesia AIDS Coalition (IAC) and the national network of women living with HIV (IPPI).

This campaign provides a virtual discussion room, a safe space for people with HIV to discuss a broad range of issues, including general discussions, new information about treatments, access to treatment and advocacy to improve treatment access.

The GWL_INA network also joined ‘Aliansi Satu Visi’ (One Vision Alliance) and the Lesbian/ Gay/ Bisexual/ Transgender/ Intersex/ Queer (LGBTIQ) Forum in advocating and raising awareness on sexual diversity.

In October 2011, GWL-INA became one of four sub-recipients of the Global Fund Round 10 ISEAN-HIVOS11 multi-country grant. The grant is intended to address critical gaps in supporting and scaling up activities that reduce HIV/ AIDS among MSM and transgender people.

Activities and service delivery areas outlined in the grant are aimed at building the capacity of the community to engage with the government to increase the scope and effectiveness of service delivery, develop appropriate policies, and create an enabling environment to address stigma and discrimination.

Achievements and challenges

Perhaps the biggest achievement for the GWL-INA is that it has united the voices of gay, waria and MSM communities in Indonesia.

The network maintains this unity by not tolerating stigma and discrimination within the network. In this sense, the GWL-INA has truly become a family for its members.

The GWL-INA has succeeded in gaining the respect and attention of government agencies – the NAC in particular – to gay, waria and MSM issues, ensuring that the issues are represented in national HIV response coordination meetings.

Funding availability for programs targeting gay, waria and MSM has increased significantly since the network was established.

The Round 10 Global Fund multi-country ISEAN-HIVOS grant provides additional resources needed to improve coverage of programs targeting gay, MSM and waria in the implementation of the HIV and AIDS National Strategy and Action Plan 2010–2014.

The grant will also strengthen the gay, MSM and waria communities’ representation in policy making as well as in supporting the development and delivery of national HIV and AIDS prevention campaigns.

The grant allows the network more independence by becoming less ‘donor-driven’, as well as strengthening its position in the national HIV and AIDS political landscape.

Although the national coordinator, Tono Permana Muhamad, says that increased funding can result in more pressure, he says that it provides the network with much-needed assistance to improve its performance as a national network.

As a result of increased funding, some network members feel that overall program management for gay, waria and MSM groups has become more focused, and that the network provides easier access for funding allocations.

Despite the funding increase, most gay, waria and MSM organisations still have low financial management capacity. Many programs are still project based, which means that sustainability remains a major issue.

Due to limited capacity, it is difficult for these organisations to lobby the government (at the province/district level) for increased budget allocation for gay, waria and MSM programs.

One of the network’s strategies to address this is through mentoring and peer support training (network members providing capacity building training program for each other).

The road ahead

The GWL-INA realises that its journey as a network is only beginning. Despite many achievements, there are still many issues to be addressed.

Major improvements are still needed for HIV prevention efforts targeting gay men, MSM and waria, as HIV infection rates throughout Indonesia continue to increase.

At the same time homophobia and transphobia still exist, resulting in the continued harassment and abuse of gay men, MSM and waria across the country.

While capacity building remains an important area of the network’s action plan, more focus will be given to scaling up HIV prevention and human rights advocacy campaigns. These are just a few of the strategies that the network has identified in its new strategic action plan for 2012–2015.

The road ahead is very long for the GWL-INA. One day, the network hopes to see sexual diversity acknowledged and respected in Indonesia, with no further HIV infection among gay men, MSM and waria. This is the big dream for which the network will continue to fight.

The GWL-INA will continue being the voice of its constituents, building the capacity of the communities and advocating for their rights.

As a senior MSM activist in Indonesia said, ‘You cannot stop the ground from swelling. You cannot hold back the power of the community.’ For the GWL-INA, the ground is just beginning to swell.


1 Indonesian word for transgendered people. Waria derives from the words wanita (woman) and pria (man)

2 Muhamad, T., Tohir, M. (2006). Report on Mapping and Needs Assessment for Strengthening Non-Government Organisations Serving Men Who Have Sex With Men. Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and Burnet Indonesia.

3 ibid.

4 Jaringan Gay, Waria, dan Lelaki yang berhubungan seks dengan lelaki lain (GWL-INA) – (network for gay, transgender and men who have sex with men)

5 Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). (2010). National population census.

6 Central Intelligence Agency. (2012). The World Fact Book.

7 Personal interview with local gay group from Solo, Central Java.

8 Ministry of Health Indonesia. (2011). Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance (IBBS) – IBBS 2011.

9 ibid.

10 ibid.

11 ISEAN: Insular Southeast Asia Network on MSM, TG and HIV (ISEAN), HIVOS: the Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries.

Salina Abigail is a Bangkok-based consultant, specialising in developing documentation and proposal writing. She was involved in developing GFATM Round 9 AIDS proposal for Indonesia together with the Indonesian National AIDS Commission and in the development of Round 10 multi-country proposal led by Asia Pacific Network of PLHIV (APN+). Salina has a strong background in developing and managing programs for female drug users.