This article explores the discrepancies between the vocal public discourse on HIV/AIDS and sexuality as generally encouraged by policy-makers and donor communities in Africa, and the often hushed voices of their target groups: young people in African communities. Based on fieldwork among urban youth in Senegal and Burkina Faso, we describe the silence of young people with regard to HIV/AIDS and sexuality as a social phenomenon, with focus given to family relations, peer relations and gender aspects in partnerships. Drawing on Foucault and Morrell, an inability and unwillingness to speak about HIV/AIDS and sexuality are analysed as a response to an everyday life characterised by uncertainty. This response represents a certain degree of resistance, while it constitutes a major barrier to any HIV/AIDS prevention effort. Finally, we stress that despite great constraints in their everyday lives, young people have some room to manoeuvre and are able to apply some negotiating strategies to reduce sexuallyrelated health risks.
African Journal of AIDS Research 2004, 3(2): 103–112