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Botswana's Beauty Pageant for HIV-Positive Women Gaining Public Support But Stigma Remains

March 1, 2005

Although Botswana's "Miss HIV Stigma Free" beauty pageant -- which crowned its third winner on Saturday -- is "gaining public support," the contestant pool is small and primarily consists of women who are HIV/AIDS counselors, which is "one sign of the continuing stigma" associated with HIV/AIDS in the country, the Chicago Tribune reports. Botswana has the second-highest HIV prevalence worldwide, according to the Tribune (Goering, Chicago Tribune, 2/28). Kesego Basha-Mubeli, founder of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Centre for Youth and Hope, in 2002 conceived the idea of a pageant for HIV-positive women "as a fun way to educate people about the need to erase stigma" surrounding HIV/AIDS, according to the Toronto Star (Siegfried, Toronto Star, 2/28). Since then, the pageant has gained public support and financial backing. The 2005 pageant was sponsored by the diamond mining company DeBeers, cell phone companies, banks, airlines and a local church, and the contestants were coached by Miss Botswana 2004 Juby Peacock. However, the pageant has "yet to attract many ordinary clerks or lawyers or housewives" in part because "families still whisper about the neighbor who has lost too much weight or they stop calling friends who go to the local clinic a little too often," according to the Tribune (Chicago Tribune, 2/28). Cynthia Leshomo, the 32-year-old HIV/AIDS counselor who won the 2005 pageant, said she plans to use her one-year reign to encourage HIV testing and focus attention on HIV-positive children in the country (AFP/, 2/27). Leshomo -- who won cash, an academic scholarship, beauty treatments and a computer -- said, "I am going to urge our government to involve us HIV-positive people in work on HIV/AIDS, especially in hospitals, because ... we know how it is to live with HIV/AIDS" (AP/, 2/26).

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