Africa's Fight Against Sugar Daddies

PHOTO: Is this campaign cutting to the heart of the issue, or simply finding a scapegoat?

In American pop culture, "Sugar Daddies" are often regarded as relatively harmless, kind of sad men dating vapid or opportunistic, kind of sad women and locked into meaningless, kind of sad relationships. On the more romantic, aspirational end, there's Richard Gere's cad-with-a-heart-of-gold in Pretty Woman -- an actual, literal john who finds himself falling in love with a prostitute after she teaches him that love is more than being able to buy amaaaaazing outfits with someone else's money. Although that certainly doesn't hurt. And online (the Sugar Daddy's natural habitat), there are plenty of sites dedicated to helping wealthy men connect with younger, attractive, cash-strapped women. There are also a steady stream of articles -- usually written by Sugar Babies -- about how to seek and maintain such a relationship.

And while Sugar Daddy arrangements can certainly be the fun, trendy, mutually beneficial relationships between two consenting adults that popular culture and the media often portray them as being, they can also have much more harmful repercussions when played out between two people with a pronounced disparity in power. In Uganda, for instance, a billboard campaign aims to address one of the harmful side effects of Sugar Daddy relationships -- the spread of HIV. The image was posted to Reddit, where it was immediately identified as displaying Uganda's crest. Others on the thread mentioned similar campaigns in countries like South Africa and Rwanda.

In fact, a number of African nations have been waging PSA campaigns warning women against entering into sexual relationships with "Sugar Daddies" for years. One radio campaign targeted girls as young as 9, explaining that "Our adolescent girls are attracted to sugar daddies in their quest to get mobile phones, cars, luxurious commodities, putting their life at risk of getting unwanted pregnancies and HIV/Aids." In the '90s, the Gambia Family Planning Association commissioned posters urging women to "Beware of Sugar Daddy: Short Term Benfits But Long Term Problems!!" And, in case that didn't drive the message home, the poster featured an additional deterrent. "Remember," they warn. "He Could Be Your Father!!"

Population Services International (PSI), a global health organization with programs in over 60 countries, worked to combat Sugar Daddy relationships by launching The Go Getter Club, empowering and encouraging women to say no to advances by older men.

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