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PACIFIC AIDS/HIV REPORTS Durban, South Africa 2000


A. Jowitt University of the South Pacific Port Vila, Vanuatu

Issues: Throughout the countries of the South Pacific region custom is a major, and politically sensitive, barrier to the implementation of HIV prevention programs. Christianity is a second major barrier to the promotion of HIV awareness. The two forces often interact to form a seemingly impenetrable obstruction to the discussion of HIV or HIV related issues in society. This obstruction is most obvious in the case of people engaging in marginalized sexual behaviors such as men who have sex with men or people who sell sex.

Description: This paper considers how custom has interacted with introduced religion to marginalize men who have sex with men within contemporary South Pacific societies. It examines how 'custom' has been manipulated into a political symbol, why it has aligned with religion (which has been very destructive of custom) and why, despite the changes in custom, it has remained a powerful social force. The paper is primarily based upon the situation within Vanuatu, and draws upon anthropological literature, contemporary media reports and postcolonial theory in its analysis.

Conclusion: This paper provides an explanation for how and why custom and religion work together in post-colonial nations to form an immensely powerful barrier to HIV prevention programs. This theory can be used to disentangle the current rhetoric created by custom and religion, thereby allowing the barriers created by the rhetoric to be dismantled.

Presenting author: A. Jowitt University of the South Pacific PMB 072 Port Vila, Vanuatu Tel.: 678 22 748 Fax: 678 27785 E-mail: 

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