» Archive for category: ‘sexuality

Becoming Fathers

Category: sexuality

29 Sep 2015

becoming a father

The website ‘reproductive journeys in Malawi‘ presents the main findings of a 4 year research project on ‘Becoming a father’ in an online exhibition format.

Whereas the bulk of research in the field of reproductive health and rights focuses on women, ‘Becoming fathers’ shifts the analytical spotlight to men. Its main objective was ‘to explore Malawian men’s aspirations and experiences of having children, particularly from the vantage point of men’s involvement in their own and their partner’s reproductive health’, with the aim of helping to ‘contextualise the reproductive health issues that people experience in Karonga District, a rural area in the north of Malawi, and facilitate sharing and learning from that information.’

To this end, a methodology centred around ‘reproductive life stories’ was employed involving 55 men and their female partners. The material this generated (both visual and interview material) is presented bilingually (Chitumbuka and English) in a very engaging online exhibition and structured around ten themes. It starts with the theme of ‘boyhood aspirations‘ and closes with ‘finishing “the programme”‘, which refers to sterilisation. Other interesting themes include ‘childlessness‘, ‘outside pregnancies‘, ‘becoming a father’, and many more. The combination of beautiful photographs, short quotes and expanded quotes works particularly well. It gives a good overview of the main findings whilst it also gives a sense of the qualitative richness of the material. For example, the quote introducing the ‘becoming a father’ theme reads: ‘even before the arrival of his first born, a man may become a father to younger siblings or cousins’.

Another interesting feature of the project’s website is the inclusion of some fieldnotes in the ‘About‘ section and a useful commentary on language and translation. The fieldnotes illustrate very powerfully the context in which the research must be understood. The research was conducted in Chitumbuka (the main language of northern Malawi), whilst in transcribing the data influences of the English (‘jenda’ for gender) and Chichewa (the national language) were noted. In addition, another interesting point is made on how in everyday speech the research participants have appropriated development and committee speak. The case in point is the phrase ‘the programme’, used to refer to sterilisation (mostly of women).

posted by Roy Huijsmans


8 March marks the occasion of International Women’s Days. On this date, many events across the world are organized to celebrate women’s important and significant contributions to society, whilst other events highlight the continued gender-based inequalities and gender-based sufferings too many women face.

Much of this involves adult women. Yet, in practices concerning the advancement of women’s rights the girl child is often there, literally or imagined.

Article 39 of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) states that ‘the girl child of today is the woman of tomorrow’. This concern with the future continues to characterize much development practice concerning children and youth, and at times takes highly particular gendered forms. A good example is PLAN’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ global campaign.

Marjaana Jauhola argues in her article entitled ‘The Girl Child of Today is the Woman of Tomorrow’: Fantasizing the adolescent girl as the future hope in post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in Aceh, Indonesia’ that such campaigns promote a development doctrine: ‘the right timing of events in adolescent girls’ life guarantees better futures’; thus a gendered age-normativity (see also picture above). Building on Sara Ahmed, who has unraveled the significant relationship that is constructed between ‘the girl’ and ‘the future woman’ in the Beijing document, Jauhola observes that ‘growing from a girl into a woman becomes a measure of ‘global development’, a move from underdevelopment to development. In this construction, the life course of a girl child becomes a wider metaphor for the progress of the ‘globe’.

For example, one area of action in the PLAN campaign is addressing ‘child marriage’. This is about making sure that girls do not marry before reaching age of majority (18 according to international standards), without questioning the heteronormative institution of marriage as an eventual destination. Drawing on work by Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that this projects (girl) children into a heteronormative future, which assumes that ‘childhood is essentially heterosexually determined’.

Campaigns like Because I am A Girl thus mobilise, in the words of Jauhola ‘discursive connections between heteronormativity and future, adolescence and gender, sexuality and citizenship’. In these ‘citizenship fantasies’ the girl-child functions as a site of limitless potential precisely because her future is not yet written. Returning again to Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that ‘the utopian fantasy is the property of adults, not necessarily of children’. Perhaps this is something to consider when celebrating International Women’s Day.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


UNICEF and UNAIDS are learning that, in the fight against AIDS, they ignore adolescents at their peril. The UN organizations have released their latest statistics on HIV/AIDS worldwide, and they show impressive progress in most areas, with significant reductions in AIDS-related deaths — including the prevention of infant infection through aggressive mother-to-child transmission prevention. There is one glaring exception however: adolescents.

Girl_infections_infographics_1 New infections among adolescents (10-19 year olds) have actually risen. AIDS is now the leading killer of adolescents in Africa and the second cause of death of adolescents worldwide. Girls and young women are disproportionately affected, comprising the majority (64%) of new infections. Adolescents also face greater challenges of access and adherence to treatment than other age groups. In fact, many are not even aware that they are living with HIV (UNICEF, 2014).

In response to this glaring exception, UNAIDS and UNICEF launched the All In to End Adolescent AIDS Initiative this week in Kenya. With the support of UNFPA, WHO, PEPFAR, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and various youth movements, All In intends to provide ‘a new platform for action to drive better results for adolescents by encouraging strategic changes in policy and engaging more young people in the effort’ (UNAIDS, 2015).

According to UNAIDS, ‘All In focuses on four key action areas: engaging, mobilizing and empowering adolescents as leaders and actors of social change; improving data collection to better inform programming; encouraging innovative approaches to reach adolescents with essential HIV services adapted to their needs; and placing adolescent HIV firmly on political agendas to spur concrete action and mobilize resources’ (ibid.).

While All In shows promise for reversing these trends by involving more young people directly in the effort, it remains to be seen to what extent it will lead to concrete gains, either in HIV reduction amongst adolescents or greater youth participation in such initiatives (after all, UNICEF has made these points before). The initiative’s website contains few details. It is unclear, for example, what role essential support like comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) will play in All In Initiatives, despite the vast majority becoming infected through sexual transmission. madnkts

Further, All In pledges to engage young people, but with All In calling on ‘national leaders to coordinate, support and lead assessments of existing programmes and expand partnerships for innovation between the public and private sectors’ (ibid. ), young people’s participation may easily be hijacked or usurped by others’ interests.

The fight against HIV/AIDS clearly needs adolescents, and adolescents need to take a greater place in research and policymaking. To do this, they need support to receive and even redesign CSE (see our other recent blogposts on CSE) and other capacity building to help them make the most of participatory opportunities, and to lessen the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives. ISS is doing this through, for example, projects that involve young people directly in research about their sexual and reproductive health needs to improve CSE delivery in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, The Dutch Children Affected by AIDS (CABA) Working Group, of which ISS is now a part, will be working to ensure that adolescents are prominently involved in the AIDS 2018 conference to be held in Amsterdam.

Posted by Kristen Cheney

chantalThis is the second posting on the expert meeting on ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ (CSE) hosted at the ISS last October (first posting HERE). The event was organised byShare-Net InternationalShare-Net NetherlandsInstitute of Social Studies (ISS/EUR)IS Academie (UvA)Rutgers WPF and dance4life.

Young people’s sexuality is often associated with fear, evoking control and repression. This can also be recognized in the targets set by governments in Eastern and Southern Africa. Sara Vida Coumans argued at the expert meeting that this is rooted in the narrow idea that sexuality is related to sexual intercourse. Such an understanding of sexuality that does not acknowledge that sexuality is also experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, behaviours, practices, and relationships and is influenced by gendering processes.

Chantal Umuhoza (see picture above) further argued that there is a need to move away from such fear based approaches within CSE. Umuhoza elaborated on such a ‘non-protectionist approach’ towards youth by drawing on her experiences as a peer educator in Rwanda:

In addition to taking age as a social construct, there is a need to adopt a positive approach to young people’s sexuality and to develop young people’s capacity as a way to remove barriers to their meaningful participation.  Changing the mindset of what sexuality means, not just for young people but for everyone in general, is important, as successful CSE would need an enabling environment as well.”

As a consequence of a narrow understanding of the term sexuality, being related to sexual relations only and not to pleasure, positive values and practices, an environment is created in which age control mechanisms (such as parental consent laws), virginity tests  and heteronormative practices shape the dominant discourse towards CSE. Based on research with youth in Malawi, Undie et al. recognize that addressing the concept of pleasure within CSE can be controversial, “but can help with ensuring that sexuality education interventions are well tailored to young peoples’ culture” (Undie et al. 2008: 12). While CSE as a term is more and more recognized, there is a need to remain critical to whether CSE curricula deliver a comprehensive scope of information and to reflect on who defines what is comprehensive and in relation to whom?

guest contribution by Sara Vida Coumans


International Institute of Social Studies

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