Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

International Affairs

First Advisor

Andy Baker

Second Advisor

Francisca Antman

Third Advisor

Vicki Hunter

Abstract

In this paper, I aim to answer the question: why are HIV rates in Botswana so high? The HIV epidemic in Botswana is a public health crisis that has dramatically affected the people of Botswana. Through comparative analysis with Uganda, a sub-Saharan African success story in terms of HIV, I argue that cultural and economic factors are responsible for high HIV rates in Botswana.

Cultural norms such as oppressive gender norms, a lack of knowledge surrounding the HIV virus, and a lack of sex education contribute to why Botswana has been unable to confront this serious epidemic. Uganda has been far more successful in engaging women in politics and the work force than Botswana. I argue that the oppression of women in Botswana has exacerbated the health epidemic.

Sex education and information surrounding safe sex practices are far better distributed and understood in Uganda than in Botswana. Mandatory sex education programs for the Ugandan youth have been very useful in promoting awareness and comprehension. The taboo nature of sex in Botswana creates a norm of secrecy, resulting in a young population that is uninformed about safe sex practices and disease contraction.

The issue of unequal gender norms becomes prominent again as I argue that economic inequality between genders within the nation is responsible for phenomena such as transactional sex, increasing the spread of HIV. Because women are far less engaged in the professional sector than their male counterparts, many women feel reliant on the financial support of men. In Uganda, because women play an active role in the professional and political realms, they are able to feel empowered and avoid reliance upon a man for financial stability. Female politicians also have a vested interest in providing services that are beneficial for the health of other women. Women may remain an at risk group for HIV in Botswana until unequal gender norms in the nation are confronted.

I conclude my argument by dismissing three common arguments used to explain high HIV rates; laws and stigma against homosexuality, general poverty, and biology. While these arguments are commonly presented as explanations for high HIV rates in sub-Saharan Africa, they each invoke glaring flaws. Biased and inaccurate data surrounding homosexuality in the region renders any explanation of this sort unsound. I argue that anti-homosexuality norms are very prominent throughout nearly the entirety of the region, and cannot be directly correlated to HIV rates. Data would seem to indicate that wealthier people are actually more at risk of HIV within a nation and that wealthier nations may have higher HIV rates, disproving the previously assumed stance that poverty and high HIV rates must be positively correlated. While certain different subtypes of HIV might have different levels of pathogenicity, I argue this has no effect on the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.