It’s said that society kills the individual before HIV does. While misconceptions about people who are HIV positive have dissipated over the past three decades, the stigma associated with the disease remains strong, especially throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. People who are HIV positive have been discriminated against for decades. It stems largely from the lack of good sex education available in schools worldwide.
To change her home country of Bostwana’s regional misconceptions about HIV, Mrs. Kesego Basha-Muebli, founded the Miss HIV Sigma Free pageant. A pageant designed for women who are currently receiving health and wellness counseling and HIV antiretroviral treatment to come out to their friends and family as being HIV positive.
When Kesego created The Miss HIV Free pageants back in 2002 she already had a record of advocacy. She founded an HIV/AIDS advocacy Centre for Youth and Hope in Bostwana, a center focused on educating the population on how to avoid the virus. It also encouraged people to treat people with dignity.
HIV/AIDS in Africa:
SInce the early 2000’s, Sub-Saharan Africa has reported the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. Southern African countries like Botswana and Swaziland are considered the epicenter of the pandemic because the rates of infection and people living with HIV/AIDS are so high. As of 2014, Sub-Saharan Africa reported over 25 million of the worldwide total of 36.9 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
The social taboos associated with HIV in this region make it a difficult subject for communities to talk about. The Miss HIV Stigma Free pageant is life-saving for this reason. No matter what place you take in the pageant among, you become an ambassador to help your community talk openly about HIV, and therefore educate others on how to remain HIV free and get treatment if you are positive.
Before a woman participates in a pageant event, she receives support from her peers at her place of treatment and/or counseling. During her tenure she learns how to tell her friends and family that she is HIV positive through the pageant. The events include drama and dance performances, and a runway show filled with breathtaking models.
Today, the pageants continue and have spread in popularity throughout the continent. While the cultural dances and pageantry are representational of each woman’s home country, the message remains the same: HIV/AIDS should never be a stigma.