HIV-sensitive social protection for unemployed and out-of-school young women in Botswana: An exploratory study of barriers and solutions

Promotive social protection programs aim to increase income and capabilities and could help address structural drivers of HIV-vulnerability like poverty, lack of education and gender inequality. Unemployed and out-of-school young women bear the brunt of HIV infection in Botswana, but rarely benefit from such economic empowerment programs. Using a qualitative exploratory study design and a participatory research approach, this paper explores factors affecting perceived program benefit and potential solutions to barriers. Overall, participants viewed existing programs in Botswana as ineffective and inadequate to empower vulnerable young women socially or economically. Factors affecting perceived program benefit related to programs, program officers, the young women, and their social and structural environment. Participants perceived barriers at every socioecological level. Young women’s lack of life and job skills, unhelpful attitudes, and irresponsible behaviors were personal-level barriers. At an interpersonal level, competing care responsibilities, lack of support from boyfriends and family, and negative peer influence impeded program benefit. Traditional venues for information dissemination, poverty, inequitable gender norms, and lack of coordination were community- and structural-level barriers. Improvement recommendations focused on improved outreach and peer approaches to implement potential solutions. Unemployed and out-of-school young women face multidimensional, interacting barriers that prevent benefit from available promotive social protection programs in Botswana. To become HIV-sensitive, these socioeconomic empowerment programs would need to accommodate or preferentially attract this key population. This requires more generous and comprehensive programs a more client-centered program delivery, and improved coordination. Such structural changes require a holistic, intersectoral approach to HIV-sensitive social protection.