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‘Auntie Stella: teenagers talk about sex, life and relationships’ : discursive constructions of gender and sexuality in the materials of a sexuality education programme.

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Sexuality education in southern Africa has been relatively unsuccessful in engaging with young people in helpful ways. Gender inequalities have been highlighted as a significant contributor to poor adolescent sexual and reproductive health in the region. One of the major challenges for sexuality education has been the way in which interventions have largely reproduced, rather than challenged existing gender roles and hierarchies in society. The ‘Auntie Stella: Teenagers talk about sex, life and relationships’ intervention, developed by the Training and Research Support Center (TARSC) in Zimbabwe has experienced success in encouraging adolescent participation and engagement with their sexual and reproductive health. The materials of the intervention comprise forty two question and answer cards in an agony aunt format. However, to date, no research has undertaken a discursive analysis of the ways in which gender and sexuality are constructed in the materials. Given its widespread use across southern Africa this study set out to explore the constructions of gender and sexuality within the materials. The primary aims of this study were to identify the discourses in the Auntie Stella materials, to deconstruct them, to determine to what extent dominant discourses were present and to explore the social realities and identities which were produced. Using a Foucauldian discourse analysis, the research identified that the materials were largely constructed within a context of risk and responsibility which served to regulate adolescent sexuality in powerful ways. Adolescents were encouraged to take up responsibility in ways that were legitimated by Auntie Stella, who was constructed as an expert. Additionally, constructions of risk and responsibility were gendered in complex ways. Dominant discourses of gender and sexuality were prevalent throughout the materials. For instance, biological essentialism, gender difference and heteronormativity were produced as natural and normal. Despite overwhelming constructions of victimhood and vulnerability, young women were contradictorily expected to be responsible for regulating men’s’ desire. This uneven burden experienced by women in the materials represents a central conflict in the ways in which women’s agency was constructed and negotiated. While women’s sexuality was only notable by its absence in the materials, male sexuality was constructed in somewhat more complex ways. On the whole, the materials largely relied on dominant constructions of gender and sexuality which reproduced gender inequalities and offered limited discursive resources for adolescents to fashion their sexual subjectivities in complex and creative ways.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.