It has long been stated that in order to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, prevention efforts must not only involve a multi-sectoral approach, but must also include players at all levels of society: community groups, NGOs, governments, the media, etc. Taking this into account, the National HIV/AIDS Commission of Barbados this year launched a wide-scale prevention campaign consisting of public service announcements geared towards "saving an entire generation". The campaign draws on one of the Caribbean's core cultural elements, cricket: a sport that is widely played and loved throughout the region; and features billboards, as well as television and radio skits that collectively promote condom use through the slogan "It's Your Wicket, Protect It!"
Such efforts are timely, given the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, which ranks as the world's second most affected area after Sub-Saharan Africa. Estimates suggest that left unchecked, AIDS would account for the deaths of close to one million Caribbean people, with the hardest hit age group being those between the ages of 15 and 49 (PDF). According to Dr. Carol Jacobs, head of the HIV/AIDS Commission, local research shows that those most affected by the epidemic fall within the 20-54 age group, which reportedly accounts for more than 75 percent of all infections and deaths. Given these facts, the Commission has attempted to build on the cultural significance of cricket, while reaching out to those who fall within the most vulnerable target groups.
Despite this, the prevention campaign has so far been a controversial one, and has raised the question of how public health care intersects with "moralistic" viewpoints on "appropriate sexuality." There have been public outcries regarding the open message of condom use, which have been heightened by the fact that one of the more visible advertisements is a large, prominently displayed billboard featuring a young woman in cricket gear with condoms in hand above the slogan "It's Your Wicket, Protect it! Use a Condom every time!"
According to one of the more vocal critics, a member of the local clergy, the advertisement sends the message that "you can have sex anytime and anywhere, as long as you have a condom and use it."
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In drawing such a parallel, these critics are suggesting that the promotion of condom use will push a group, which would otherwise have abstained from sex, into uncontrolled and promiscuous sexual activity. The issue is therefore shifted from personal empowerment via management of our sexual health to one which makes assumptions about, and further seeks to control, the ways in which we have sex, the regularity with which we do it, and who we should do it with. It becomes about the perceived need for the "regulation of human sexuality" (to quote one contributor to the local newspaper), as opposed to individual control of our bodies.
Historically, this approach has been an unsuccessful one. In the same way that moralistic viewpoints have sought to control women's reproductive health by condemning the right to choose how, if and when we should give birth; such approaches continue to create the idea that sex itself is the problem, and that unless it takes place in socially acceptable settings (read: husband/wife/white picket fence), it should be condemned.
The fact remains however: people are still having sex. As that song by LaTour from the 1990's stated: "someone in the world is having sex right now".
Admittedly, I too have my challenges with the format of the HIV/AIDS Commissions campaign. For one, it doesn't seem to challenge the traditional tendency to sexualize female bodies, instead choosing a young, attractive woman and playing on her sexuality.
However, I think the campaign goes a far way towards getting us to talk about sex in a more honest manner, while visually (and forcefully) exposing the general population to the idea that we do in fact have choices about how we manage our bodies and our sexuality.