African urban high school girls' constructions of sexuality and sexual risk.
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This study investigated how a group of African high school girls attending an urban high school construct their sexual identities and how their particular constructions are related to their engagement in risky sexual behaviours. This particular study formed part of a larger project entitled: 16 Turning 17: Young people, gender and sexuality in the context of AIDS. This qualitative study brings together the various ways in which a group of young African girls construct their sexuality. This study recognizes how the construction of sexuality is negotiated, understood and enacted. It has created a platform for these young girls to voice their perceptions, understandings, behaviours and experiences that influence their sexualities. A social constructionist perspective was used to understand how these young African girls construct themselves and others as sexual subjects and how social processes and actions feed their understandings of sexuality and in the engagement in sexual risk. The findings in the study illustrate both the ways in which male power operates to police and regulate young female sexualities as well as the ways in which this group of girls develop resistance against gender power and exercise a certain degree of sexual agency. The findings suggest the variegated perceptions of sexuality and sexual risk highlighting these young African girls’ ability both to endure and to challenge the constraining gender norms and roles that society has embedded in their context. The study offers recommendations for school curricula to be structured in a manner that raises awareness about sexuality and encourages safe sex practices. This study recommends that learner awareness not only be raised in subjects such as Life Sciences and Life Orientation but through involvement in awareness campaigns, through workshops and through organised youth networks. Within the different grades at school such awareness-raising should highlight aspects of HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, safe and unsafe sex practices etc. Such measures would assist young people with an opportunity to interact and learn with their peers about sensitive topics. Peer groups and networks formed at school or through community efforts are proposed that would increase young people’s confidence levels. For example, young homosexual girls are encouraged to form peer groups that this could offer each other emotional support and build resistance against others who discriminate against homosexuality.