African teenage girls' understandings of sexual risk in the context of HIV and AIDS in KwaZulu-Natal.
This study investigated black African teenage girls’ understanding of sexual risk. The focus of the study was to understand the participants’ deeper meanings attached to what they regard as sexual risk. I was interested in understanding why some black African girls engage in risky sexual behaviors and how sexual risk is linked to their gendered positioning. The study focused specifically on black African teenage girls aged between 16-18 years. This study used a qualitative approach to generate data. A case study methodology was used to conduct research in one township school at KwaMashu. Data collection consisted of focus groups and individual interviews with grade ten and eleven learners who could provide the relevant information, interest and experience pertaining to the case (Leedy & Omrod, 2005). My findings are that social constructions of femininity and masculinity play a major role in limiting girls’ sexual agency for either refusing sex or practising safe sex (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 1993). The study also revealed that some girls were coerced by their boyfriends and no protection was used. Despite the challenges faced by the girls in the study, what is positive is that there was evidence that some young girls challenged the dominant gender norms. These young girls transgressed and deconstructed gender norms which hindered their sexual agency. As a result some girls exercised sexual agency by choosing to practice safe sex, in spite of all social and cultural pressures which encountered by young women. The study used the social constructionist theory in order to understand the varying meanings that the young black African teenage girls give to sexual risk in the context of HIV and AIDS. The study suggests that support groups need to be in place in order to provide effective counseling for the girls who experience rape and coercion. Social workers must also be placed in schools in order to tackle such cases. The school and the community should work collaboratively to protect girls in such circumstances. The school has to ensure that workshops on gender equality are conducted for both boys and girls in order to equip them with the necessary skills so that they can be able to cope with gender issues.