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In Botswana, cross-generational sex (CGS) accounts for a disparity in incidence and prevalence rates of HIV infection between young men and women in the country. Ministry of Health quantitative data and ethnographic research indicate that almost one third of college-aged girls in urban cities had high-risk sex with a partner over ten years older in the past year. Described as “Mma 14s” (in the past this was often translated as “mothers at age 14” or “women at 14”) these girls are caught between cultural imperatives that emphasize the “traditional” and global consumption and goals of being a “modern” person. Rates of incidence and prevalence of HIV infection for young women of that age are considerably higher for women despite active education and awareness programs targeted toward the reduction of CGS. Increasingly, global health initiatives have placed emphasis on gender issues in the construction of efficacious, culturally competent prevention strategies but have yet to truly examine how local initiatives (and interpretations) of health messages can facilitate these goals in the twenty-first century.

This chapter describes how a local initiative, Makgabaneng, a very popular, long-running radio serial drama, has helped to raise awareness and increase education across the country about CGS. The show, a product of grassroots development and culturally competent strategies, has helped empower young girls as well as community members in their efforts to ameliorate some of the disparities in HIV infection. This approach has had positive outcomes for girls living in urban contexts and from both low and high socio-economic back- grounds, indicating a shift in awareness that transcends assumptions about socioeconomic status (SES) and empowerment. In this chapter, I demonstrate how ethnographically-driven research at the local level helped to inform better strategies for intervention in what has come to be seen as an increasingly problematic aspect of the global epidemic. I suggest that a reconsideration of and reinvestment in more grassroots and culturally logical messages can help move this phase of HIV and AIDS prevention forward and have a positive impact beyond urban to more rural parts of Botswana.


Part of Selected Papers from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society, Huntington, West Virginia

April, 2016

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