Empowering secondary school learners to explore risk perceptions and the role of gender among young people in the context of HIV/AIDS.
The challenge that confronts South Africa 's emerging democracy is that an increasing percentage of its population is being infected with HIV/AIDS daily . The socio-political impact of the disease has resulted in the development of a variety of macro-level interventions. Despite these initiatives, there has been no decline in the spread of the epidemic. The increasing prevalence of HIV infection among young South Africans in particular, has necessitated an exploration into their risky sexual behaviour. A closer study of the social fields of practice, where knowledge is not only produced, but is constantly contested, negotiated, reproduced and embedded, is suggested. This study uses the principles of feminist theory to focus on gender roles and the related issues of power and risky behaviour. The central argument of this work is that the traditional construction of sexuality, which encourages sexual aggression and promiscuity among young men, alongside female sexual passivity and ignorance, are gendered factors which fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS . In order to examine young peoples' perceptions of the role of gender and risky behaviour, I engaged young people, who were already in the field, to conduct the research. An exploration into the processes of enabling young people to conduct research, while linking the production of meaning to the possibility of human agency and transformative social action, formed an evolving methodology in this work. The research was designed to provide young people with a space for active engagement, participation, immersion and reflection, en route to becoming researchers. Young researchers who conducted research in their youth communities served as deep insider researchers, who possessed an awareness of the slogan systems and semiotics which operated within the cultural norms of the community. The young researchers conducted the inquiry by using a multiplicity of methods, which included visual methodologies, individual interviews and questionnaires. They solicited most of the data from a wider group of 15 to 19 year old African and Indian learners . These learners, who were mainly from a lower socio-economic background, attended the co-educational school, in the province ofKwaZulu Natal in South Africa. The findings of this study reveal how young researchers become empowered by acquiring increased competence in doing research and achieving a greater understanding of the influences of gender and power on risky behaviour. The research report offers methodological insights into the training and enablement of young people as researchers. It reveals how catalytic validity enables a transformation in the young researchers, who, having achieved a heightened understanding of the purpose of the research , actively participated in the research process. The study is significant because it reveals the gradual effacement of the main researcher from the research process, as a natural consequence of engaging young researchers to solicit, generate and interpret data. These new insights evolved as a result of taking the risk of allowing oneself, as a main researcher, to "get off track" and to enter uneven social spaces by doing research differently.