Twenty five million people are DEAD because of policies against women in Africa.


Many more millions are infected with AIDS and EBOLA - the two DEADLIEST PLAGUES ON THE PLANET.




Men RAPE VIRGINS thinking it cures them of aids.


And AFRICAN PARENTS, once programmed into Patriarchal attitudes, assist in the demise of their children BY LETTING MEN WITH AIDS HAVE SEX WITH THEM.


It's all part of the status quo of Patriarchy around the world. And you thought we had it bad here?




Anastasia Gage
(Sierra Leone), Pennsylvania State University

Stockholm the 25th of April 1997


This is a documentation from an international seminar on women's empowerment held in Stockholm. The seminar was organised by RFSU (Swedish Association for Sexual Education) in co-operation with the Department of Demography at Stockholm University. The seminar was enabled through financial support from Folkhälsoinstitutet, the Foreign ministry, Sarec and Botilda. The seminar is following after a scientific seminar on female empowerment in Lund on how to follow up the Cairo and Bejing conferences.




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The focus of this presentation is on the sexual behaviour and contraceptive use in Sub Saharan Africa. The presentation deals with power dynamics and how adolescents experience power. This needs to be explored in order to know how to deal with the situation in which many adolescents are today. How power relations affects the sexual life will be discussed as well as the contraceptive behaviour and reproductive choices of adolescents.


The need to empower adolescents has not been acknowledged. The knowledge about adolescents is limited. In the western world there is a tendency to see adolescents relations in a romantic light and therefore deny the power struggles in these relationships. Recent studies have shown that adolescents are experiencing violent dating relationships and sexual coercion. This has put female empowerment among adolescents in the fore front.

In the developing countries there has been a high raise of aids, and the rate of unintended pregnancies is high. Many AIDS intervention strategies have recently begun to question those interventions who rely on that women can control the sexual encounter. It has been realised that women alone can not reinforce condom use without having active participation of men. The great age gap in marriages, which is common in developing countries, leads to a powerlessness for the adolescents. In the situation of declining economies money transactions has become a more common feature in adolescents relationships.





In Sub Saharan African more attention has only just begun to be paid to the economic bases of power. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to this. It is socially accepted for old men to have sexual relations with young girls. "Sugar daddies" who act like sponsors to young school girls are common. The school girls often lack resources to go to school and they therefore enter such relations to be able to get an education. Families prefer to spend money on educating boys. Sex becomes a way for girls to get an education, especially on higher levels of education.

There is a serious problem of male teachers demanding sex in return for good grades. This problem is not addressed as it is seen as OK for old men to have sexual relations with young girls.


The obstacles can appear at all stages in line. At the labour market it is not unusual with bosses expecting sex as condition for employment and promotion. The system of paying with sex can thus permeate the world of the adolescents.


In Sub Saharan Africa there is a phenomena of bride wealth linked to education. In the region bride wealth is the exchange for marriage. Parents are now facing limited resources why they get prospective suitors to pay for the school fees for the girls. When the prospective suitors, who is supposed to be like their fiancées, pay the school fees they use that as bride wealth, and the men want to see some in return for their money. So the family push their girls into sexual relations with these men even while they are in school. If a pregnancy occurs they just take them from school and send them to live with their husband. This bride wealth is so tied up with female education, particularly among poorer families, so if girls want to get secondary education they often have very restricted choice.



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When talking about how adolescents experience power it is important to also look beyond access to resources and look at culturally defined social relations. Parental power is legitimised in many contexts. Parental power can for instance mean that parents arrange marriages, denies adolescents contraception, decides whether an unmarried pregnant woman should have an abortion or not, or prevents the adolescents to seek the health care that they need. It is important not to ignore parental power which is legitimised to a large extent.

In many countries there are multiple systems of justice. There is a legal minimum age of marriage, but it only applies to the 25 percent who are thought to be governed by statutory law. For those who are governed by customary law the parents can arrange marriage at any time, there is no minimum age. Even an unborn child can be conditionally married to a man, if it proves to be a girl the she can when still being a child move to be raised in the husbands household.




Women do usually not have access to resources, such as land and cattle, unless being married. Therefore marriage is very important to the women. It is also important that the wife gets children to solidify their positions and try to make sure to get access to resources through children as there is no spousal inheritance from each other.

If women are not educated and the government does not have positive discrimination in terms of children's education, insisting that parents send their daughters to school, and penalising parents that do not send their daughters to school, female adolescents inaccessibility to resources will continue. Those girls value marriage and childbearing as a way to access resources, because those are their options. If they do not go to school they have no other options than to marry and have children.





The socialisation and gender ideology is crucial for the power relations. Even if you have resources you may not use those resources to exercise power. Most cultures have defined what it means to be masculine and feminine. To be feminine often means to be non aggressive, non assertive, to listen to the husband and parents, whereas masculinity means to be assertive.

A number of studies show that male adolescent subscribe to masculine ideology which means that they should be assertive and not listen to what the women say, as they have been raised like that. These male adolescents are the ones who will have more sexual partners in a relationship, they will have less consistent condom use, they have less belief that males have responsibility to prevent pregnancy, and they believe that if the women gets pregnant that defines and validates their masculinity.

The gender role socialisation means for the females that they should be submissive to the males, the females shall be subordinate in a sexual relation. That impacts of course on whether they can say no to unwanted sex, use contraception, or even just talk to their partners about how to protect themselves from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Another important issue is sexual aggression and sexual coercion. It is common that females are coerced into sexual relationships. This coercion comes from all sorts of people, like male adolescents, from older men outside the family, from the large extended family. No body is worried about having sex with a minor, as the legal and social discourse does not prohibit it.

In Sub Saharan Africa some men with HIV think that a they can get rid of the disease by having sex with a virgin. This has led to a rise in the proportion of women who are raped and sexually abused by older men. This has to do with the way masculinity is seen and the way males are seen to have access to women. Because of their hardships families are also encouraging their daughters to have such relations with men who are twenty years older, whom have been so much exposed that the daughters are in a great danger to catch the disease, though this never occurs to the parents.



To empower adolescents it is important to let them know how power operates in their lives. They also have to recognise how they as individuals and how the communities are affected by the way power operates. Many people do not recognise that they are powerless, because you tend to think that "this is the way society works, and has done for generations". The adolescents also develop skills of how to change the power balances in society. Most important is to make them psychologically believe that they can control their own lives. The female adolescents of Sub Saharan Africa are commonly considered as not capable of taking decisions, which makes them think that nothing is within their control. Even in the sexual encounters they do not have that control and think that they can make a decision. When deciding how to approach this it is important to consider that the situation of the different countries vary enormously.


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Peer counselling is an important way of spreading the empowerment. Empowerment at group level can be very efficient. When an adolescent gains power over her own life and has understood that all the adolescents are subjected to certain conditions she can help others in getting power over their lives. It is also important to understand the female socialisation process and the gender role stereotyping.

From a demographic point of view it is important to get the adolescents able to exercise their reproductive choices. This can mean to chose not to engage in sexual activity, not to engage in sexual activity without informed consent, to get males to conform to safe sexual practices, to ensure not being at risk for unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease, ability to negotiate pleasurable sex.





It is important not to only focus on the married adolescents but also on the unmarried who have a more vulnerable economic situation and who also have a greater risk of getting sexually exploited. Power can be very entrenched. A researcher from Ghana has said that it is inconceivable for an unmarried woman to refuse sex unless she is menstruating or she is really sick, because sex is the men's undeniable right.


In the so called "courtship game" many men approaches girls for sexual relations outside the protection of the family, and the adolescents have to learn how to negotiate and deal with many different men. The adolescents tend to have a distorted assessment of their ways, thinking that they are not in risk of pregnancies, which also affects their way of assessing the risks of pregnancy.




If girls are to be empowered their access to resources such as basic education has to increase. However, in schools the gender stereotypes are still strong and gender socialisation is enforced in schools.

If girls are given access to resources independent of the family, their capacity to achieve a favourable balance of power in relationships can be enhanced. Their independence from the families, who often have very strong influence on adolescent girls, can be increased. Wider social networks could be developed and create less dependence of men and children. Without access to resources the women have to depend of men and children for survival and also for status.

Access to information and services can foster feelings of empowerment and has to be increased. Many adolescents have a poor knowledge about safe sex, and distorted ideas and faulty knowledge of how likely they are to get pregnant. Information would empower them to know how to protect them selves towards unwanted pregnancies.


In the past it was the task of the family to bring the information about sex and pregnancies to the adolescents, this was performed not by the parents but by the grandmothers and aunts. These networks have now broken down, first of all because of migration but also because of education. The parents that traditionally not was expected to talk to their daughters about pregnancies do not know how to do it. The schools do not want to take the responsibility to give information about sex to the adolescents. Thus there is now a gap to be filled, right now there is nobody who provides the adolescents with adequate information.

It is important to give adolescents confidence and a sense that they can control reproductive behaviour and their sexual activity.



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Almost all girls know that there are costs to become pregnant. They can not continue their education as pregnant girls or mother's are not allowed in schools, and the parents will kick them out of the house. Still they will not use contraception, because they see contraceptive use as involving a cost. The first cost is the negative attitude they will find from family planning providers to young unmarried girls who are sexually active. Family planning providers are often willing to give contraceptives to young girls provided that they are married. They see the premarital sexually active girls as transgressing all the rules of the society, why they often refuse to give contraceptives to them.

There is also a fear of negative side effects of the use of contraceptives, the fear that especially the pill will lead to infertility. Childlessness is not a culturally accepted option for women. Therefore the girls do not want to use the pill or the IUD even if they had access to do that.


Another cost is associated with going to the same clinic as everybody else in the community. There is no privacy and people are afraid of gossip.

Not all adolescents want to avoid pregnancy. Some want to become pregnant, especially in West Africa where pregnancy can be a prerequisite for marriage. The men are scared of marrying a woman that is not going to be pregnant. It is important to have a child within the two first years of marriage to solidify the woman's marriage position. If the woman does not have a child she will be subject for labelling and the man can threat to get another wife. Infertility is considered the women's fault.

It is important to try to increase the girls abilities to make decisions on partner choice, as those who chose their own partner are more likely than those in arranged marriages to discuss childbearing issues with their partner and also to use contraceptives.





It is not enough for the adolescents to have the knowledge and ability to use contraceptives, they also have to put it into practice, which can be very hard. Condom use for example have many negative connotations, many girls refuse to have condoms as they will be considered prostitutes. This is the most challenging, how can you make a person that is given the knowledge, given everything to put that into practice. Role-playing and peer counselling can be of use, getting the adolescents together as a group, showing them how others are exercising power over them and trying to get them ways of avoiding or manipulating the power. Together they can develop strategies of trying to enforce change, changing their partners and becoming more aware of power and how it is played out in their lives.





Adolescents is a very sensitive political issue in many African countries. Many communities and societies still refuse to talk about adolescents, still condone early marriages and relations between young girls and old men and are still against premarital sexual activity. There are enormous barriers even just to give information to adolescents about biology. There are enormous political obstacles to empower adolescents. One way to go is to make communities realise that if they deny the adolescents information in this world of AIDS they will sentence the future of the community to death.


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