March 18, 2009

That's What She Said: Pope Edition

William Easterly has already said everything that I wanted to say about the Pope's comments on condom usage in Africa.  However, here are a few semi-anecdotal asides:

1.  While living in Botswana, my base of operations, Francistown, had the highest HIV infection rate of 15-25 year olds in the world.  There was no shortage of condoms.  Nor was there a shortage of groups advocating for an A-B approach only (that's "abstain" and "be faithful" minus the C, "condom" for those not familiar with the infamous triad).  There was a shortage of groups offering real alternatives and solutions to the 15-25 year olds looking to avoid a positive diagnosis in the midst of rapidly changing cultural and social norms that had the deck stacked against them.  In a culture where women have few if any sexual rights how do you ask a man to put on a condom?  What's worse - the beating that is sure to follow such a request or the possibility of a disease somewhere down the road?

2.  Regardless of where you land on the condom argument the sad truth is that the Pope's statement probably hurt women and other sexually marginalized populations the most as they are the only ones who probably could have benefitted from a more nuanced message from the pontiff.

3.  Somewhere I have a photo I took of a group of boys playing soccer with a ball made entirely of condoms (thrown out by a clinic after they "expired").  Did I mention there were a lot of condoms around?

4.  The problem in my little slice of the world at that time was not condom usage.  It was a lot of things - a healthcare infrastructure scrambling to play catch up with relatively limited resources, finding an effective medium through which to educate a culture that never publicly discussed sexuality about the dangers of sexual intercourse, replacing the traditional sexual initiation/education model that rapid urbanization was demolishing, the necessity of economic transience, etc., etc., etc. -  and none of them were very effectively solved by the simple math of "do I or do I not use this piece of latex."

5.  Balloons.  You see a lot of condom balloons knocking about as well.

6.  To quote the Pope, HIV/AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems." Nor can it be overcome by the church alone, which even aggravates the problem.  One of the greatest tragedies of my time in Botswana was seeing how unwilling churches and secular NGO's were to work together and realizing how many instances there were where they could have been incredibly effective partners.  The lack of imagination and basic trust from both sides in the face of an unfolding epidemic was depressing to see.  In many places on the continent that has changed some, but not enough.

7.  Am I the only one that thinks the above sentence from the Pope would have been a good time for someone in the crowd to shout "That's what she said."  And if so, does that make me a bad person?


a conversationalist said...

I am glad you posted on this, I was wondering what your thoughts were. We actually had a discussion on this in class this week and I was flying blind without my Botswana correspondant.

mantra2 said...

The Pope is only trying to force his belief system on africa. I wrote about it myself in my blog:

check it out if you want too :)