“It’s hard work to be a girl”: Adolescent girls’ experiences of girlhood in three low-income communities in South Africa.

Van Wyk, Sherine B (2015-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2015

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Gender plays a pivotal role in every aspect of our lives. It influences our behaviour and how we are treated, and is a critical driver of development, mental health and well-being. Since 1994, South Africa has taken great strides in establishing a society built on a culture of human rights that are enshrined in its Constitution and Bill of Rights. It has envisioned that in this “new” South Africa there would be a better life for all. Despite the gains since 1994 and the commitment to build a society based on human rights, equality and freedom, traditional notions of gender and gender discrimination tenaciously persist in both the private and public spheres of South African society, which tend to have a profound influence in the lives of women and girls. Hence, the aim of this study was to explore, with a group of adolescent girls from three low-income communities in the Winelands area of the Western Cape, what it is like to be a girl in their contexts. Further aims were to explore their constructions of femininities and masculinities; their experiences of gender; and how they negotiated their positions as girls in their communities. In this qualitative study, I used social constructionism and, feminist and objectification theory to conceptualise and understand the participants’ experiences. The data were collected by means of focus group discussions and individual interviews. Sixty-one adolescent girls, between the ages of 13 and 15, participated in seven focus group discussions. Each focus group met for four consecutive weeks at a school in the three communities. Individual interviews were also conducted with four participants, one principal and two teachers at the different schools. I managed all the transcribed data with ATLAS.ti, a computer aided qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) programme, which supported a thematic analysis of the data. Three key themes were identified in this study: (1) About being a girl; (2) Menarche: Becoming a woman; and (3) Gender relationships at home and with peers. The findings of this study suggest that girlhood is a complex and dynamic process, and girls often straddle ambivalent and contradictory positions in their subjectification and embodiment of girlhood. The findings further suggest that girlhood, as experienced by these girls, is marked by high levels of gender inequity and surveillance. Thus, despite commitments to gender equity in South Africa, these girls were still socialised to know their place. Intense levels of surveillance were used to regulate normative femininity and the respectability of these girls, thereby keeping the “good” girl intact. It is recommended that a range of interventions should be initiated and implemented on multiple levels to promote gender equity and gender consciousness with parents, teachers, boy and girls.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Gender speel ‘n deurslaggewende rol in alle aspekte van ons lewens. Dit beїnvloed ons gedrag, hoe ons behandel word, en dien as ‘n kritieke dryfveer vir ontwikkeling, geestesgesondheid en welstand. Sedert 1994 het Suid-Afrika groot vordering gemaak in die totstandkoming van ‘n samelewing wat op ‘n kultuur van menseregte gebou is, soos in die Grondwet en die Handves van Menseregte vervat. Dit het ‘n beter lewe vir almal in hierdie “nuwe” Suid-Afrika in die vooruitsig gestel. Ondanks die vordering sedert 1994 en die verbintenis om ‘n samelewing, gegrond op menseregte, gelykheid en vryheid te bou, het tradisionele opvattinge van gender en gender diskriminasie in die privaat en publieke sfere van die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing, hardnekkig bly voortbestaan. Dit het die geneigdheid om ‘n diepgaande invloed op die lewens van vroue en meisies te hê. Vandaar die doel van hierdie studie, om met ‘n groep adolessente meisies uit drie lae-inkomste gemeenskappe in die Wynlandstreek van die Wes-Kaap, verkennend te bepaal wat dit beteken om binne hulle konteks ‘n meisie te wees. Verdere doelwitte was om die meisies se konstruksies van vroulikheid en manlikheid; hulle ervaringe van gender; en hoe hulle hul posisie as meisie binne hulle gemeenskap beding, te verken. In hierdie kwalitatiewe studie het ek gebruik gemaak van sosiale konstruksionisme en feministiese- en objektiveringsteorie om die deelnemers se ervaringe te konseptualiseer en te verstaan. Die data is deur middel van fokusgroepsbesprekings en individuele onderhoude ingesamel. Een-en-sestig adolessente meisies, tussen die ouderdomme 13 en 15 jaar, het aan sewe fokusgroepsbesprekings deelgeneem. Elke fokusgroep het vir vier agtereenvolgende weke in ‘n skool, in die drie gemeenskappe, ontmoet. Individuele onderhoude is ook met vier deelnemers, een skoolhoof, en twee onderwysers by die veskillende skole gevoer. Ek het die getranskribeerde data met behulp van ATLAS.ti, ‘n rekenaarondersteunde kwalitatiewe sagtewareprogram, verwerk. Die program het ‘n tematiese ontleding van die data ondersteun. vi Drie temas het in hierdie studie na vore gekom: (1) Die ervaring van meisiewees; (2) Menarg: Om ‘n vrou te word; en (3) Genderverhoudings in die huis en met portuurgroepe. Bevindinge van hierdie studie suggereer dat om ‘n meisie te wees, ‘n komplekse en dinamiese proses is, en dat meisies dikwels ambivalente en teenstrydige posisies in hulle subjektivering en verpersoonliking van hoe dit is om ‘n meisie te wees, huldig. Die bevindinge suggereer verder dat om ‘n meisie te wees, soos deur hierdie meisies ervaar, deur hoë vlakke van genderonbillikheid en polisiëring (“surveillance”) gekenmerk word. Derhalwe, ondanks die verbintenis tot gendergelykheid in Suid-Afrika, is hierdie meisies steeds gesosialiseer om hulle plek te ken. Intense vlakke van polisiëring is gebruik om normatiewe vroulikheid en ordentlikheid by hierdie meisies te reguleer om sodoende die sogenaamde “goeie” meisie in toom te hou. Daar word aanbeveel dat ‘n reeks intervensies op verskeie vlakke van stapel gestuur en geïmplementeer word om gendergelykheid en genderbewustheid met ouers, onderwysers, seuns en meisies te bevorder.

Thesis

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