School-going youth, sexuality and HIV prevention in Northern KwaZulu-Natal : a gender perspective.
The incidence of HIV cannot be separated from social relationships. Therefore different forms of social relationships are bound to have different impacts; different identities may result in varied degrees of spread of HIV (Kirumira, 2004:158). Gender issues are increasingly being recognised as having a critical influence on the HIV epidemic in southern Africa. Gender inequalities fuel the HIV and AIDS pandemic, rendering females more vulnerable to HIV infection than males. This is shown clearly by HIV prevalence which is reported to be higher among young females than young males (Human Science Research Council, 2005:33). This thesis concerns a three-phase study that I conducted amongst a group of school-going boys and girls in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. The purpose of the study was to conduct a gender-based life building skills programme to expose and sensitise school-going youth to the complexities of gender, sexuality and cultural issues, sex education, the language of sex, rights issues, gender equality and mutual respect, sexual decision-making and HIV prevention. I conducted the first or orientation phase, using a quantitative approach, to determine baseline data prior to conducting the intervention phase of this study. Phase Two was the intervention phase, conducted to collect data during the gender-based skills building intervention programme. Action research is the qualitative research method that guided the intervention programme, involving the youth in a process of gradual change. Phase Three was undertaken using a quantitative approach, to collect data from all the leaners who participated in this study. This phase aimed to evaluate the impact of the intervention programme. The baseline study found that boys demonstrate their manhood by becoming sexually experienced. They do so at an earlier age than females, thus making them more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV infection. The results of this multi-phased study confirmed existing knowledge about gender, sexual risk-taking and HIV transmission and generated some surprising findings. There was an increase in condom use of more than 90% of learners who reported they were sexually active after the intervention. There was an increase in one-partner relationships. After the intervention, girls better understood their sexual rights and were better able to negotiate for condom use with their partners. Gender power imbalances remained but boys understood better that girls had rights. They continued to believe in the importance of being heterosexually active as a key constituent of their masculinity but it appears that they will be more mindful of girls' desires and rights. Recommendations for various stakeholders, collaboration programmes, curriculum issues and for further research have been highlighted.