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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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UGANDA: Campaigning against cross-generational sex

Photo: PSI
Young girls are encouraged to look beyond the material gain of the sugar daddy relationship
NAIROBI, 7 September 2007 (PlusNews) - In most of Uganda, as in many parts of the world, it is acceptable for a man to be several years older than his partner or wife, so when Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing non-governmental organisation (NGO) recently launched a campaign against cross-generational sex in the country, it started a lively debate.

"It is true that it is the social norm for older men to marry younger women, but PSI is challenging this norm, unless it is a marital relationship," Julius Lukwago, communications manager at PSI Uganda, told IRIN/PlusNews.

For the purposes of its campaign, PSI defined cross-generational sex as a non-marital relationship between a young woman aged between 15 and 24 years, and a man at least ten years her senior.

The goal of PSI's campaign - carried on radio, television and billboards, and extended to 'Go Getters' clubs at universities - is to reduce new HIV infections among vulnerable young women.

HIV prevalence among young women aged 15-24 is four times what it is among their male peers. In Ugandan men, HIV prevalence peaks in the 35-44 age group, into which a significant number of 'sugar daddies' fall.

A 2003 study by the US-based Johns Hopkins University found that the age difference between young women and their male partners was a significant HIV-risk factor, suggesting that the high HIV infection level in younger women was caused, at least in part, by transmission from older male partners

But many Ugandans say PSI's campaign is attacking 'normal' relationships, since a 10-year gap between couples is not unusual. "In some of the billboards, the man they use looks like he's in his thirties and the girl looks like she's in university - this is the typical relationship," said Denis Jjuuko, who runs Prime Time, a local public relations firm.

Jjuuko pointed out that Ugandan men traditionally provided for their wives or partners, and the economic dynamic of the sugar daddy relationship is very much within societal norms. "They need to address the causes of the sugar daddy phenomenon, which is economic hardship - poverty."

Patricia Wamala, of the youth and reproductive health NGO, Straight Talk Foundation, PSI's partner in the campaign, said the focus of the initiative was less on the age gap and more on the power dynamics of a cross-generational relationship.

"The men pressure the girls for sex, often unprotected sex, through gifts of school fees and money - this is more the problem than the age difference," she said. "Nevertheless, a 15-year-old girl has no capacity to make informed decisions when it comes to sex."

Straight Talk has also been extending the campaign to secondary schools, where it targets older girls and trains mentors to teach the students about life planning, sex and sexuality, and goal setting.

Changing society's perceptions

While it was easy to reach the girls through their schools, PSI's Lukwago admitted that it was far harder to reach the sugar daddies. "It's a challenge, because it is difficult to identify these older men," he said.

"However, during our focus-group discussions, we found that what resonates with them is the thought of their own daughters engaging in similar relationships," he commented. "So, in our radio and TV campaign we send the message that another man could be your daughter's sugar daddy."

Young women needed to develop strong self-esteem and self-worth in order to resist the advances of older men, and PSI has attracted corporate sponsors who offer internships to members of the Go Getters clubs.

"We give these girls a chance to work with companies like Coca cola and Total and Stanbic Bank so they can get a feel of the working environment and develop their hunger for that sort of income, rather than money from a sugar daddy," Lukwago said.

PSI was also encouraging frank discussions about sex between parents and their teenage children, traditionally taboo in most Ugandan cultures, to build teen support networks.

"I have been involved in giving internships to university students, but they look down on some of the more menial jobs, such as those in the catering industry," Jjuuko said. "They need to be encouraged to start generating their own income, and to learn that you must start from the bottom and climb up."

David Kasasa, dean of students at Uganda's Nkumba University, agreed, and said girls' desire for material things was what pushed them into relationships with older men. Cross-generational relationships were widespread at his university.

"They want to live above their standards; they want the cellular phones, the clothes and hairstyles that this money affords them," he said. "The Go Getters club is a good initiative, because the girls see that they can get these things for themselves and don't need a man for them."

Kasasa said attendance at the fortnightly meetings of the Go Getters club at his university had grown significantly since the campaign was launched.

Susan Kaneche*, a second-year public administration student at the Uganda Christian University, told IRIN/PlusNews she thought the campaign would be effective because it made girls think about the consequences of their actions.

"On TV, you see this man, and when they say he has HIV you get scared of what could happen if you got into a relationship with him," she said. "It makes you look beyond the nice phone and clothes he can buy." 


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


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