Negotiating and regulating teenage sexuality in rural Zimbabwe: gender, culture and schooling.
Matswetu, Vimbai Sharon.
MetadataShow full item record
In the context of HIV and AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and teenage girls’ vulnerability to gender inequalities and violence, there have been several efforts in Zimbabwe to address the triple scourge of disease, violence and inequalities. School-based sexuality education is an important context through which these issues can be addressed. However, in Zimbabwe sexuality is shrouded in silence with the real-life experiences of young people often subsumed under the injunctions of culture. Against this backdrop, this study examines teenage sexuality in rural Zimbabwean schools based on qualitative research with teenagers, teachers, school heads and parents. The findings show contradictions between teenagers active sexual agency and adult ideals espousing innocence and tradition. The study found that while teenagers conform to gender and cultural discourses of girl and womanhood, they simultaneously harness these very same discourses to contest and resist complete regulation. Teenage agency in forging a new account of virginity prioritising individual interests, interrogates the prevalent interpretation of this practice as oppressive and patriarchal. Likewise, teenage boys questioned the gendered moral principles informing the virginity discourse and valued male virginity in the context of trust, and risk of HIV infection. Furthermore, it was established that a reinterpretation of child marriage focusing on girls’ agency broadens understanding of the practice beyond the taken-for-granted understanding of girls as victims. Elopement characterised by mutual consent is a culturally recognised process of getting married among the Shona. It is through this culturally acceptable practice that teenagers resist ‘sexual damage’. Teenage girls do exercise considerable agency in harnessing cultural practices that help to maintain their respectability in cases of culturally condemened premarital sex. The study accentuates structures of labour, power, cathexis and culture in the social construction of gender and sexuality, concluding that these ought to be prominent in discussions of sexuality. Integrating components of Connell’s Gender and Power Theory in school-based sexuality education could provide opportunities for multifaceted perspectives on significant issues such as teenage sexual agency, pregnancy and child marriage. Provision of sexuality education which addresses gender dynamics and teenagers as sexually knowing within the socio-cultural context, is an important recommendation in this study.