MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University professor Louise Bourgault will receive a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant to study how performance art is being used to address the AIDS crisis in Mali, West Africa.

Bourgault will focus her attention on a women's group that performs street theater warning about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. She said it is a complete reversal of traditional Malian street theater, which excludes female participation.

"Men play women's roles and the material often spoofs women for not being obedient enough, costing too much money, etcetera," said Bourgault, a faculty member in the communication and performance studies department at NMU. "Now you have women dressing as men and doing parodies that show men as irresponsible for not practicing safer sex. The significance for gender is extraordinary and it's amazing this is happening in an Islamic society where men have power."

It is also a society in which men are allowed to marry four women. Bourgault said research shows that, in both polygamous and monogamous relationships, men are more likely to be unfaithful than women. If a man contracts the HIV virus, he could unknowingly bring it into his household, infecting multiple wives and future children.

"Most AIDS messages in Africa are designed to promote sexual responsibility among men," Bourgault said. "Studies show that women are more careful, yet they have few choices in sexuality. If men decide they don't want to use protection, there's usually no disputing it. A United Nations organization, LTNAIDS, has made it clear that campaigns need to focus on altering the African male's definition of masculinity. This is revolutionary."

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals per year to more than 125 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. Of the 13 research grants that will apply to the African region, Bourgault said four deal specifically with AIDS.

The grant funding covers travel, living expenses and support personnel. Bourgault attended an orientation this month in Washington, D.C. She will be in Mali conducting her research from January through April.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program's purpose is to build mutual understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director