Negotiating sexuality : challenges facing young African schoogirls [i.e. schoolgirls] in the era of HIV and AIDS.
This study explores the meanings that young African schoolgirls aged 16 turning 17 from a high school in Umlazi, Durban give to their sexual identities. Using qualitative research methods in the form of semi-structured open-ended interviews and focus group discussions, their understandings of sex, sexuality and sexual risk were explored. The aim was to investigate why these young girls expose themselves to risk by engaging in unprotected sex, in spite of sex education and many interventions and campaigns related to Human Immune- Deficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) infections' awareness which these girls receive in school. Poverty, unemployment and crime plague this community and it is within this context that these girls make sense of their sexual identities. The main findings of this study are that these young girls resist being placed in a subordinate position and the patriarchal system which the society and boys attempt to impose. Furthermore, most of these girls come from broken families where grandparents have a responsibility to sustain the family. In the process, girls expose themselves to sexual risk as they become vulnerable to peer pressure. Girls' response to their challenges with regards to sexual identity is to act like boys, have multiple partners, and dump the boys who demand sexual favours. In response, this study aims to enlighten the girls regarding the dangers inherent in their behaviour and to assist them with safer ways of assuming 'girl power'. Girl power implies that girls are empowered with skills to be self confidence, be confident with themselves by protecting themselves from sexual infections and to take informed decisions as they negotiate their sexualities. The findings reveal that girls reject the patriarchy that subordinates them and are now taking a position of girl power. I conclude that, in assuming their power over boys, these young girls want to behave like boys and have multiple partners which put them at risk.