Finding our voices gendered & sexual identities and HIV/AIDS in education
HIV/AIDS is one of Africa’s major development challenges. Since the 1980s, it has continued to devastate the lives of millions of people across the continent. Today, the Eastern and Southern Africa region is the most hard hit in the world. Most worrying is the fact that more than half of the newly HIV-infected are young people between 15 and 24 years of age. Throughout the region, the risk of HIV infection for young women is also increasing. Of the 8,600,000 young people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, 67 percent are young women and 33 percent are young men (Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis, UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO, 2001). These grave scenarios have provided the rationale for the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (UNICEF ESARO) to give first priority to HIV/AIDS. The first priority status includes a policy that requires each section of the Regional Office to spend 50 percent of its budget on HIV/AIDS-related programmes. The initiative on Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Education was launched in Blantyre, Malawi by UNICEF ESARO in July 2001 through a regional workshop for young people. The initiative is a collaborative endeavour between the regional HIV/AIDS and Education sections with funding from UNAIDS and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Girls’ Education Programme. The Girls’ Education Programme recognises “gender” as the features associated in specific cultures with masculinity and femininity, and acknowledges that not all societies and cultures share the same ideas of what it means to be male or female. As the title of this book suggests, there is overwhelming silence about the role of gender and sexuality in the construction of identities. The identity of being women/men or girls/boys is taken for granted as a fixed natural endowment that corresponds with being female or male. Being female is thus gendered as feminine and polarised against the masculine. Such assumptions tend to divert attention from the fact that human beings are continually producing and reproducing themselves as particular women/men or girls/boys in different social contexts. This book provides space for girls and boys to address the gendering of their own identities and those of others Following the Malawi workshop, the Regional Office undertook a study in seven countries to examine young peoples’ perceptions and experiences of gender, sexuality and HIV/AIDS in education. These seven countries were Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The research findings are being used to furnish educationists, policymakers and parents with rich information about the cultures and identities of young people. The life skills education programme emerging from this study aims to provide effective prevention and mitigation of the impact of HIV/AIDS in our education systems.