Mitigating an Elephantine Epidemic: Gendered Space for HIV/AIDS Outreach Through Namibian Conservancies

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Population and Environment


Politics and Government


As the reach of HIV/AIDS continues to devastate communities and create potential pressures on natural resources, conservation organizations have increasingly become involved in education and outreach to address the disease. This paper’s purpose is to investigate how increasing HIV infection rates and AIDS deaths relate to community-based conservation and livelihood strategies in the Caprivi Region of northeastern Namibia, and demonstrate that conservation organizations can play a unique role in combating the disease. As the epidemic is more widespread in the Caprivi than in any other region of the country, local organizations such as Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) are responding to the disease by integrating it into conservation work. IRDNC’s efforts reflect a particular focus on gender, including changes in the way that HIV/AIDS is discussed in local communities, strategies to promote access to testing and care, and bringing to light the experiences of individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS. This approach shows that there are benefits to be gained from approaching HIV/AIDS mitigation through familiar, existing structures such as those of community conservancies in Namibia—especially the ability to circumvent heavy local stigma. Using data collected through participant observation and participatory discussions, this paper demonstrates that conservation programs can positively affect people with HIV/AIDS, highlighting the importance of mainstreaming outreach efforts that address the particular localized manifestations of the disease in the context of natural resource management.