By Esther Platteeuw
Quote on a classroom wall
Shop in Jinja Town
Focus group in Jinja Town
Boy preparing 'rolex'
Quote on a classroom wallQuote on a classroom wall in Wairaka – From January to March 2017 I conducted my fieldwork in Uganda to examine the dynamics of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education on sexual practices and strategies in everyday lives of youth in Jinja District, eastern Uganda. In the beginning of my stay, I contextualized the field youth live in and what stand different actors take with respect to relationships and sex before marriage. This photo summarizes what youth told me about what school teachers advise them: “pre-marital sex is risky” and “choose to abstain”. The latter is in accordance with the ‘ABC’-campaign of the government in fight against HIV/AIDS. The ‘A’ stands for ‘abstinence’, ‘B’ for ‘be faithful’, and ‘C’ for ‘condom use’, whereby schools emphasize abstinence.
Shop in Jinja TownShop with office stationaries in Jinja Town – Besides the dislike of schools towards relationships and sex before marriage, also religious leaders from churches and mosques preach “no sex before marriage”, and, moreover, parents too are against it because they tell youth “not to spoil their future”. The latter refers to parents’ fear for school drop-out of their son or, in particular, their daughter when she gets pregnant.
Focus group in Jinja TownAfter a focus group discussion with youth of Jinja Town – Youth told me that, against the norms of school, religious leaders, and their parents, they have relationships, in most cases more than one at the same moment, and practice sex, whether or not in secret.
Boy preparing 'rolex'A boy preparing a ‘rolex’ (rolled eggs), which are two baked eggs with some cabbage and onion rolled into a ‘chapati’ (i.e. flat pancake). – In regard to gender relations, both boys and girls told me that it is the boy who approaches a girl, expresses his love for her, and is the one who initiates a relationship or sex. Nowadays, sometimes a girl takes over this role, however, in most cases she would be seen as a prostitute or someone who has many boyfriends. Which is happening, according to girls, but which is not accepted by society.
Another USAIDS poster
Wall in Jinja Town
Kevin and her cousins
Two boys working at a car wash in Jinja Town
USAIDS posterPoster of USAIDS in front of ashop in Jinja Town. – In fighting against HIV/AIDS, (inter)national organizations set up multiple intervention programs to provide youth in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education, like peer to peer education, radio and TV shows, and condom distribution. Although I acknowledge the importance of information provision, research of the impact of such efforts shows mixed results.
Another USAIDS posterAnother poster of USAIDS placed on a tree in Jinja Town. – Some youth even told me that they do not fear HIV anymore, since the introduction of ‘ARVs’. ARVs are medicines for someone infected with HIV and thus, being infected with HIV does not have to lead to death anymore, which was the case before.
Wall in Jinja TownWall in Jinja Town with a certificate of Busoga Kingdom. – And then, there is the mobile phone which youth in Jinja District also own. The question is not if they have a phone, but if they have a smartphone with access to the internet, or a ‘simple one’, just for calling and texting. In addition to the previous research question, I examined how youth experience agency through the mobile phone in an interacting field of gender relations and sexuality.
Kevin and her cousinsKevin (the 2nd girl from the left) with her cousins and friend in her room in Kampala. Note that her cousin on the right holds her smartphone in her hand. – The mobile phone has both sustained and changed gender relations. When it comes to the approach of another, such as to ask a phone number, give away a number, or to approach the other via WhatsApp or Facebook directly, it is still the boys’ responsibility. However, the change comes in when a boy and girl are in contact. Then, a girl gets empowered by the agency that a mobile phone provides and she can do things she was not able to do before. Whereas it was for boys always socially accepted to have multiple girlfriends at once, because “he is a man”, with the mobile phone a girl is also more able to maintain multiple relationships in secret.
Two boys working at a car wash in Jinja TownWhen looking at the dynamics of SRHR education with a special focus on (the attitude towards) condom use, youth acknowledge that in general, boys still hold power whether to decide to use a condom or not. Which means that although both boys and girls can be informed about how to prevent HIV, this does definitely not mean that youth will change their behavior and thus would use a condom in all situations.
Esther Platteeuw recently finished her master Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She wrote a thesis about the dynamics of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education of youth in Jinja District, Eastern Uganda, and the role of the mobile phone in a moving field of sexuality and gender relations.