Not Your Ordinary Beauty Pageant

HIV Pageant Celebrates Beauty and Erases Stigmas at Once

The Botswana Beauty Pageant gives voice and raises awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS with hopes to dissolve the stigma felt towards the disease.

The pageant, held in the capitol Gaborone, consisted of 12 competitors who are all HIV positive. The women ranged in age from 21 and 35 and were coached by Miss Botswana 2004. Cynthia Leshomo, 32, was crowned “Miss HIV Stigma Free.”

Leshomo, who works as an AIDS counselor, told the African Press, “October 10th, 2000 was the day my world was turned around when I was told that I am HIV positive. I went through all sorts of emotions-denial, anger, resentment, despair. I never thought I, beautiful and intelligent, would get the virus. Here I am today. HIV knows no boundaries. I am a living example that being HIV positive is not the end of the world."”

2003 pageant winner, Kgalalelo Ntsepe, 33, told Reuters reporters, “We are saying here we are HIV positive and it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line.”

Reports have claimed Botswana as one of the hardest hit countries worldwide by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In a report released last week by the UNAIDS organization, life expectancy at birth has dropped below 40 years in nine African countries. Botswana was mentioned along with Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the United Kingdom, the registered orphan rate in Botswana is estimated at 60,000, but it is feared that the country will have about 200,000 registered by the year 2010.

Avert has also noted that Botswana’s first AIDS case was reported in 1985. The country’s reaction to the situation was broken into three stages.

The early stage, 1987-89, focused on the screening of blood to prevent the risk of HIV transmission through blood transfusions. The second stage, 1989-97 brought the emergence of education and communication programs with the adoption of the Botswana National Policy on AIDS. In the third stage, 1997 – 2002, the response to HIV/AIDS was expanded to include education, prevention and comprehensive care with the provision of antiretroviral treatment.

Avert has also reported that the country “is bombarded with HIV messages, but there hasn’t been a change in behavior.”

In February 2004, the African Press reported that Botswana received the first installment of the 44 million promised by the President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief. The funds will help with the continuation of the partnership between the CDC and the Botswana government. Under the first installment, provisions for training programs, stigma reduction activities, and assistance to Botswana non-government organizations were made.

Along with receiving the perks of a scholarship, free beauty treatment and a monthly allowance, pageant winner Leshomo will travel around Botswana with President Festus Mogae to educate the youth about the disease.