Fertility, elites and HIV/AIDS in Botswana: social identities and new reproductive orders

The project researches fertility seeking of elites in Botswana. Botswana is one of the few middle income countries in Africa with an exceptional high HIV/AIDS infection rate of 25 to 30 per cent among the adult population. In the past 15 years HIV/AIDS had caused a wave of death in the country bringing forward a radical demographic decomposition of the population.

Anthropological as well as demographic discourses exhibit the tendency to understand ‘African’ striving for fertility as an unchanging cultural constant – with few exceptions such as countries in the so called infertility belt in which overall fertility rates are low. Anthropologists, and the people they study alike, have been attributing the striving for fertility to socio-economic factors such as that the importance of children as helpers in the house, on the farm and in business and the importance of children for the up-keep of people in old age. Others have pointed out the importance of children in societies in which one keeps connected to life through one’s ancestors. Yet, others, especially those who have studied ‘infertility’, simply state that fertility is of primacy for people’s gendered identities and makes a statement about their status as social being and human.

HIV/AIDS prevention and care has become a central aspect of Botswana’s national politics of which – like many other affected countries – the health sector profited greatly. Therefore, in the past 20 years the biomedical paradigm has gained strong influence in how people in this part of the population perceive of their own bodies, their fertility, reproduction and sexuality. It also impacts concepts of kinship and family belonging that centre on the biological metaphor of the DNA and relatedness through biological children (rather then contractual relation over children done by families and cattle exchange).

In the context of HIV/AIDS the biomedical paradigm re-interprets reproduction as being potentially infectious. Educated professionals are largely aware of this. Their knowledge about the virus is informed by HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns which many of them have been actively launching themselves – and by the experience of the past 15 years in which people in their close social environment have been dying an HIV/AIDS related death.

How do educated professionals plan having children in this situation? How do HIV/AIDS and the biomedical paradigm, how their education and professionalism impact their approaches to fertility? And how do they ensure the survival of themselves and their children? How do these factors impact their gender, kin and class identities? The project analyses how exactly HIV/AIDS and social differentiation inform social transformation of reproductive relations and new identities in Botswana.


Intimität und Sexualität vor der Ehe in Kumasi und Endwa, Ghana. Gespräche über Ungesagtes. Hamburg. LIT [Intimacy and Sexuality before Marriage in Kumasi and Endwa, Ghana. Conversations about the Unspoken]

(together with Erdmute Alber) Changes in African Families: A Review of Anthropological and Sociological Approaches toward Family and Kinship in Africa. In: González, Ana Marta et al.: ‘Frontiers of Globalization: Kinship and Family Structures in Africa”. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. 1-30

Valentine’s Day in Ghana: Youth, Sex and Fear between the Generations. In: Erdmute Alber, Sjaak van der Geest and Susan R. Whyte (eds.), Generations in Africa. Contrasts and Connections, Hamburg: LIT: 418-429.

Go to Editor View