“Girls Have More Challenges; They Need to Be Locked Up”: A Qualitative Study of Gender Norms and the Sexuality of Young Adolescents in Uganda
Young Adolescents and Sexuality in the Ugandan Context
2.1. Study Design
2.2. Data Analysis
2.3. Ethical Clearance
3.1. Sexually Active Boys and Restrained Girls
When did you start to sleep with your girlfriend?
- Boy 1:
- I was 11 years.
- Boy 2:
- I was in primary 4 (12 years).
- Boy 3:
- As for me, I’m 14 years and still don’t have a girlfriend. I need to first grow up and be responsible for my actions.
- Boy 1 (interrogating and ridiculing Boy 3):
- What are you waiting for? Are you a tree? Do you think you will be source of timber? Laughter from all…
- Does anyone of you have more than one girlfriend?
- Boy 1:
- Yes, I have two. One in this school and another in a different school. Just in case one decides to leave me or if she behaves badly, then I have an alternative. Besides, I need to taste different girls.
- But supposing she finds out that you have another?
- Boy 4:
- Ohhh if she sees you that’s the end. You can touch them when she is not around.
- Are these the girlfriends you intend to marry?
- Boy 4:
- Haaaa, normally you stay with her like for two or three terms and if by that time you have slept with her like three times, you will have gotten tired of her and you leave her. Or she would have developed bad manners of going after other boys.
- Do some of your friends have boy friends?
- Yes, some have, but they cannot tell you even if they had (IDI Girl Rural).
- I cannot let my friend know my secret? Noooooo!! There is no one you can trust under the sun now. So I keep it to myself. I tell my blanket (IDI Girl rural).
I don’t know whether there are unwanted pregnancies because one goes there willingly. But I hear people calling it unwanted pregnancies.(Head teacher semi urban)
Sometimes girls dress inappropriately and cause men to rape them. Others cause it to happen because they eat men’s money and accept to meet somewhere not knowing that they may be raped.(FGD, Girl Rural)
When you get used, spoilt and get pregnant, you stop going to school and start suffering. Your friends start talking about you, you lose respect and you are labelled with ugly names. And if your parents chase you away you become homeless and may become a housemaid… Nothing happens to the boy. They continue studying, unless they refuse to continue on their own. But getting a girl pregnant does not make them drop out of school.(IDI Girl rural)
Of course men do not face as many challenges as women. When a girl gets pregnant, that’s her end. For me I was told by my mother that girls who get pregnant before marriage are thrown into river Kisiizi. I never wanted a man to touch me because I thought if a man touches me I get pregnant.(Female Parent, urban)
It is better to impregnate someone’s daughter than to steal. Moreover, our parents find a boy who impregnates girl more socially acceptable than a girl who gets pregnant.(Boy FGD rural)
Have you ever heard a defilement case taken serious? She hastened to answer as follows: “No! The laws in Uganda do not work”.
“I took a boy who impregnated my 16 years old daughter to police; he was released in a few days. We get discouraged by the police.”
“The government is negligent. A young man I know raped an adolescent girl of my daughter’s age. Police imprisoned him, but he was released after five days once the parents pleaded with the police. By failing to be tough on offenders, the government itself encourages criminal behaviours. The government should do more. Arrest the criminals and imprison them for a long time.”
- Do you readily share information with your parents if a boy writes you a love letter or makes advances for a sexual relationship?
- No! I received a love letter from a boy. I feared to tell my mother about the letter but I told a teacher. I discerned that my mother might think that I brought the problem upon myself yet that was not the case. There is also a boy in our neighbourhood who touches me inappropriately when my parents are away. I wanted to talk to my mother but I still fear her because she might think I am drawing the advances myself (IDI Girl semi-urban).
- Some parents can respond harshly by telling you that perhaps you want to sleep with a man if you start sharing information about sexual advances or ask questions about sexuality (IDI Girl Rural).
- My mother is tough. She is likely to say that the boy would not have approached me if I had not shown interest by familiarizing with boys for example, by smiling in a seductive way (IDI Girl semi-urban).
“Girls have more challenges in this modern world. With this exposure, girls need to be locked up.”
“Girls are like ground nuts, which are a delicacy in Uganda. Everyone wants to pick and eat them. Parents to girl children must take extra effort to control and discipline them.”
“Girls are like milk-it keeps on attracting house flies. As a parent, you have to safeguard your daughters more than you do to your sons. For the boy-child you can send him to school by himself, but the girl child needs to be escorted…”
“Parents restrict us from visiting our friends. They seem to think that a girl might have a ‘deal’ to meet a boy and engage in premarital sex. But boys do not get spoilt like girls so they allow them to go. Even if a boy delays to come, he still comes back home without much trouble. Besides girls have many responsibilities, there is always something that you are expected to do at home.”(IDI Girl Rural)
As for these old boys, I meet them whenever there is a trigger or a signal that something is wrong. We don’t normally give them too much attention as girls because in primary five to primary seven, girls are more sexually advanced than boys, and have more needs for sexuality education.(senior man-rural)
I meet girls 2–3 times in a term. I teach them to be clean especially during menstruation. Some girls are careless. A man is not supposed to see menstrual blood. I also teach them to respect elders but also to avoid men. I tell them the dangers of AIDS and accepting money from men.(senior woman rural)
3.2. Gender and Initiation of Sexual Relationships
- Who asks for love, a boy or girl?
- What happens when a girl asks a boy?
- Can a girl ask a boy for love? I have never heard of that; that would be a prostitute. She will have ashamed us as girls because a girl never advances for sex, even our teacher told us about it in class (FGD Girls semi urban).
- What would you think of your friend if she asks a boy for love?
- I would think she is not normal (Girl, IDI rural).
- I would break off that friendship. Her conduct would be regarded as strange (IDI, Girl urban).
- If I am a boy I know you want to kill me (IDI, Girl rural).
God designed it that a boy should ask a girl and not vice-versa.(Boy FGD urban)
Some girls can show you signs that they are interested, but it is not normal. You have to be wary of such girls who initiate sexual relationships. They could be having HIV.(Boy FGD urban)
If you want a girl, however rigid she might be, you give her money or a gift. Once she accepts it, you know you will win her over. You keep giving her in bits and not too much because if she knows you have a lot of money she will always come back for more.(IDI Boy Rural)
3.3. Division of Labour, Strength and Future Aspirations
Boys are more energetic. I can carry only a 10 L jerican but for him he can ride with a full milk can of 20–25 L on the bicycle.(IDI girl urban)
For us girls we do not go out to graze because it is dangerous for us.(IDI Girl Rural)
Boys are lucky, sometimes you are in the house cooking. You serve them milk and food and for them they are just in the house seated. After the meal, you even clean up the dishes, and often get too exhausted to do your school assignments. You sometimes wish you were a boy who would sit, wait to be served, and have enough time for your school assignments.(IDI Girl semi-urban)
- What do you want to become in future?
- A nurse.
- Why? Can’t you become a doctor?
- Most doctors are men (IDI Girl semi-urban).
- I want to work in a garage, be a mechanic and get my own garage (boy semi-urban).
- What kind of information would you like to hear that is never taught to you?
They don’t tell us how to do things when we get married because we hear that before you get married, you should first visit your aunt to teach you some of these things.(FGD Girls Rural)
How to conduct yourself when you are going to get married and when you are married(IDI Girl Rural)
I would like to know how to handle marriage and pregnancy.(IDI Girl semi-urban)
3.4. Gender and Value Attached to Different Sexes
“For me I hate being in my monthly periods, and I regret being a girl”.(Girl FGD semi-urban)
For me I like experiencing periods. Much as it is painful, I have to endure because you cannot produce if you don’t get them and we would like to produce children.(FGD girls rural)
It’s not good being a girl because there are problems like menstruation. You feel a lot of pain and boys disturb us asking us very many questions in case they know you have started menstruating.(Girl semi-urban)
I haven’t got my periods but I fear them, they can embarrass you at school.(IDI Girl 13 rural)
“No one can ever wish to be a girl in life”.(Boy FGD rural)
“At least wet dreams come and go. But menstrual periods keep coming”.(Boy FGD urban)
A parent will send you to a bad school depending on your academic performance; if you have performed badly you go to a bad school. Not because you are a boy or girl .(IDI Girl urban)
We don’t segregate our children (boys and girls) like our parents and grandparents did. We know that when a girl gets education she becomes an important person.(Male parent FGD Rural)
A woman’s role is to remain at home only.(Boy FGD Urban)
- I want to have 2 children, a boy and a girl.
- Supposing you get only girls?
- Ai bambe!!! (Meaning Uhhhhh); In our society when you produce girls only it’s like you have no children. You know that (IDI Girl rural).
I have five girls. People say I have produced nothing but prostitutes. That I have no child because I have no boys. I feel bad that I have not yet given my husband a boy. When girls grow, they get married to other families. But a boy stays home and makes the family grow and continue. With girls, the family is no more. My husband is now sleeping with other women looking for a boy. He has already brought me one boy from another woman. I am looking after him. I am also still producing may be God will bless me with a boy. While I would be happy getting a boy, I still love my girls. And I want them to study. When they study, they can become important persons and help me.(Female parent semi-urban)
Limitations of the Study
Conflicts of Interest
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Ninsiima, A.B.; Leye, E.; Michielsen, K.; Kemigisha, E.; Nyakato, V.N.; Coene, G. “Girls Have More Challenges; They Need to Be Locked Up”: A Qualitative Study of Gender Norms and the Sexuality of Young Adolescents in Uganda. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 193. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15020193
Ninsiima AB, Leye E, Michielsen K, Kemigisha E, Nyakato VN, Coene G. “Girls Have More Challenges; They Need to Be Locked Up”: A Qualitative Study of Gender Norms and the Sexuality of Young Adolescents in Uganda. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2018; 15(2):193. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15020193Chicago/Turabian Style
Ninsiima, Anna B., Els Leye, Kristien Michielsen, Elizabeth Kemigisha, Viola N. Nyakato, and Gily Coene. 2018. "“Girls Have More Challenges; They Need to Be Locked Up”: A Qualitative Study of Gender Norms and the Sexuality of Young Adolescents in Uganda" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15, no. 2: 193. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15020193