The social construction of the sexual identities of Zulu-speaking youth with disabilities in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, in the context of the HIV pandemic.
This thesis is a participatory research study that was conducted amongst twenty-two, 15 to 20-year-old youth with disabilities in the Umgungundlovu district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The aim of the thesis was to investigate how Zulu-speaking youth with physical and sensory impairments bring into discourse issues surrounding love, relationships, sex and HIV & AIDS in the construction of their sexual identities. As part of this process, three youth with disabilities were trained as co-researchers. In this context, a further aim of this thesis was to make evident what youth with disabilities learn through undertaking sexuality research. Using a post-structural framework, with particular emphasis on queer theory, a key argument of this thesis is that power emerges through the networks of relations in the study. This thesis also troubles the linear discourse of empowerment and the relationships between adults and young people in sexuality and HIV & AIDS research. The thesis adopted a qualitative methodology and used a participatory research design. Data was collected through the use of focus group discussions, individual interviews and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques such as drawings and timelines. The co-researchers were responsible for carrying out the focus group discussions and individual interviews with other disabled youth, as well as being involved in some aspects of the data analysis of this thesis. Data were analysed using a multi-levelled process that combined both content analysis and discourse analysis. The findings make evident that youth with disabilities are sexual beings who continually re-construct their sexual identities in the context of the discourses available to them. Furthermore, the findings demonstrate that, in constructing their sexual identities, youth with disabilities do so within the intersectionality of complementary and contentious discourses of gender, culture, modernity, ableism and adultism. In relation to the co-researchers, it was found that being part of the study provided a dialogical space allowing them to develop new self-positions, which they were able to apply to their personal lives outside the research arena. The thesis recommends the training of youth with disabilities as peer educators in sexuality and HIV & AIDS pedagogy. It also strongly argues for the need to review current teacher education curriculum in South Africa in order to take cognisance of the sexuality of youth with disabilities and their vulnerability to HIV & AIDS.