Important findings: Gender and Sexuality
Yesterday, I was documenting proceedings during a half day workshop aimed at assessing issues/problems to do with gender and sexuality in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The workshop was attended by 22 participants comprising of nurses, health promotion officers, Information, Education and Communication (IEC) coordinator, paediatric counselors and a doctor.
Question: When did you first hear about sex?
Participants responded and said that they had first heard about sex from a very young age. The responses differed among women and men. It emerged that most women hear about sex at the age of two and most men hear about sex at the age of 14. One female participant noted that she first heard about sex at the age of seven when her mother instructed her to stretch her genital parts (clitoris). Pulling of the clitoris is a traditional practice considered to make sex more enjoyable for men.
Question: Did your parents talk to you about sex?
Most men said their parents never talked to them about sex. On the other hand, most women said that their mothers talked to them about sex as a way of preparing them for marriage.
Question: Who do you talk about sex?
Answers to this question varied. Some said their partners while others said their neighbours, workmates and friends. Of importance was the fact that most people do not openly talk about sex.
Participants were tasked to identify issues or problems to do with Gender and Sexuality in their communities. Below are the issues they identified:
2. Male dominance
4. Lack of appreciation for efforts made by women
5. Violence against women
6. Sexual abuse of children particularly girls
7. Lack of appreciation of sexual preferences
8. Inability to negotiate safe sex
9. Silence on sex and sexuality
10. Cultural beliefs e.g. wife inheritance, girl pledging, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sex between father and daughter-in-law (“Holowizana” in the Kalanga culture)
11. Lack of awareness of sexual rights
13. Sexual violence
14. Domestic violence
15. Lack of communication between parents and children
16. Marital rape
18. Forces marriages
19. Date raping
20. Cross generation sex
Participants noted the following issues as most pertinent to them:
1. Limited knowledge about sexual rights
2. Sexual and domestic violence
4. Sexual orientation including lack of appreciation of sexual preferences
5. Harmful cultural beliefs
6. Male dominance
7. Sexual abuse
8. Lack of communication
9. Culture and societal beliefs
10. Early sexual debut and cross generational sex
11. Marital rape
Participants were then tasked to identify the challenges they face at their workplace with regards to gender and sexuality. They noted the following:
1. Sexual harassment from clients
2. Failure to communicate sexual and reproductive issues with adolescents and the older generation.
3. Lack of privacy to discuss sexuality issues with adolescents as caregivers/guardians will be present.
4. Limited time to attend to each individual’s problem due to long queues
5. Lack of skills and training to adequately deal with clients’ sexual issues
6. Communicating family planning with clients
7. Accepting homosexuals (sexual minorities)
8. De-rolling from being a mother to be a counselor especially when talking to young people
9. Balancing between own beliefs versus clients’ beliefs.
10. Lack of material resources to use e.g. toys for play therapy
11. Limited information resources on sexual and reproduction health
12. Sensitisation of staff to freely talk about sex
13. Lack of availability of family planning methods
Given the above facts, I strongly believe that it is important to target young people and provide them with accurate information about sex, gender and sexuality. I also think that it’s important to challenge beliefs and attitudes in society that result in the violation of women’s rights. It is also paramount to build the capacity of health practitioners of that they are able to deal with issues of gender and sexuality when they encounter them at the work place.