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Mobilising indigenous resources for anthropologically designed HIV-prevention and behaviour-change interventions in southern Africa

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HIV prevention is often implemented as if African culture were either nonexistent or 4a series of obstacles to overcome in order to achieve an effective, gender-equitable, human rights-based set of interventions. Similarly, traditional or indigenous leaders, such as chiefs and members of royal families, have been largely excluded from HIV/AIDS responses in Africa. This qualitative study used focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with traditional leaders and 'ritual specialists' to better understand cultural patterns and ways of working with, rather than against, culture and traditional leaders in HIV-prevention efforts. The research was carried out in four southern African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland). The purpose was to discover what aspects of indigenous leadership and cultural resources might be accessed and developed to influence individual behaviour as well as the prevailing community norms, values, sanctions and social controls that are related to sexual behaviour. The indigenous leaders participating in the research largely felt bypassed and marginalised by organised efforts to prevent HIV infections and also believed that HIV-prevention programmes typically confronted, circumvented, criticised or condemned traditional culture. However, indigenous leaders may possess innovative ideas about ways to change individuals' sexual behaviour in general. The participants discussed ways to revive traditional social structures and cultural mechanisms as a means to incorporate HIV-prevention and gender-sensitivity training into existing cultural platforms, such as rites of passage, chiefs' councils and traditional courts.
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