How did PMCFMH begin?
The idea to create a center focusing on the MSM population’s health needs came in 2010 when founder Pilot Mathambo was working for a national LGBTQIA+ NGO called LEGABIBO. He and others saw the need for more specific, targeted intervention for the MSM community – especially for working-class men in rural areas and small towns. After recruiting a diverse Board of Directors and securing both housing and mentorship from DITSHWANELO (The Botswana Centre for Human Rights), Pilot was able to officially launch the Pilot Mathambo Centre for Men’s Health in late 2011.
Who are MSM?
MSM are men who love other men. Other terms include ‘gay,’ ‘homosexual,’ ‘bisexual’ (or ‘bi’), and ‘queer.’ Some men choose not to label themselves at all.
The most important thing about MSM is not how they love, but who they are: sons, brothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, nephews. They are members of the family, members of the community. Maybe your family and/or your community.
What do MSM want?
Men who love other men have the same needs as everyone else:
- To be accepted by family, friends and community;
- To be understood for who they are;
- To be valued for what they contribute to relationships, families, jobs and communities;
- To live in freedom with dignity, just like friends and neighbors;
- To be happy; and
- To love and be loved.
How have MSM been historically treated in Botswana, and how can things change?
Botswana is famous for the spirit of Botho and Morero. Botswana’s culture is founded on the dignity of every individual and the need to discuss problems freely with mutual respect.
However, men who love other men often worry about “coming out” to their families and loved ones. They fear being misunderstood and rejected by the people they most need in their lives.
Family members often react with shock and hostility when they find out a son or brother loves men. Or they may just be puzzled by something they have never really thought about and do not understand.
Both sides may think they just do not know how to talk to the other. But Botho and Morero tell us that talking is the only way to understand others and resolve our problems.
Let’s take these national values seriously and start talking about MSM and HIV/AIDS. By respecting each person’s integrity, discussing our differences and understanding one another without leaving anyone behind, we will know we are fighting a winning battle against HIV/AIDS, stigma and discrimination.
How do stigma and discrimination against MSM function in Botswana, and what are opportunities for PMCFMH?
In Botswana’s society, many people are scared of or hostile towards men who love men. But MSM are like just like anyone else: sons, brothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, nephews. There is no reason to fear, hate or reject anyone just because he is MSM.
MSM live like everyone else. Because of this, you almost certainly have MSM family members, friends and neighbors without knowing it.
The myths and prejudices about MSM belong to the past-they are backward and outdated. But we recognize that they are deep-rooted and will take time to fade away.
In the meantime, the stigma and discrimination fueled by these false beliefs prevent MSM from fully participating as equal members of Botswana society – and can lead to serious implications for the health of many.
As we fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic – the biggest challenge our country has ever faced – stigma and discrimination against MSM is one of the biggest obstacles to our goal of an HIV-free generation. Many MSM are scared to be open with their families and loved ones, and it is difficult to find the long-term, loving partners most people want. MSM are forced into casual relationships that increase their risk of infection.
Sometimes the stress leads to depression, drinking, drug abuse or sex addiction as forms of escape. These too increase the risk of HIV. And if MSM marry or have girlfriends to hide their sexuality, but then meet men outside of those relationships, the risk of infection is brought into their “straight” relationships.
Stigma and discrimination also make many MSM scared to seek treatment for STIs. This further increases the risk of HIV.