Margrethe Silberschmidt

Introduction

Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East AfricaThe AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa has thrust sexuality, sexual practices and sexual behaviour into the spotlight as a major public health issue. However, although sexual and reproductive health behaviour in Sub-Saharan Africa is at­tracting increasing attention there is an inadequate understanding of the struc­tures and processes influencing sexuality and sexual behaviour in general and male sexuality and male sexual behaviour in particular. [126] Issues of sexuality have been considered too private and not a public matter to be discussed, and the fact that sexuality is vested with symbols with often opposite meanings for men and women has not been considered. Moreover, the complex and changing social and economic contexts and how they interact with sexual conducts, in particular those of men, have not been addressed by these efforts.

Research by this author in rural and urban East Africa suggests that HIV/ AIDS prevention campaigns have missed the point by neglecting the above issues and concentrating their efforts on the promotion of ABC-efforts (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use), women’s empowerment and women’s ability to negotiate safe sex. The need for a much wider understanding of the dynamics of HIV/ transmission, sexuality and sexual behaviour in a Sub-Saharan context has be­come increasingly crucial as a direct consequence of the escalating HIV/AIDS epidemic (UNAIDS 2001).

Sexuality is not a ‘biological given’, it is socially and culturally constructed and in a constant state of flux (Caplan 1991; Ortner and Whitehead 1989). Moreover,

Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East Africa

Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East AfricaArnfred Page 234 Wednesday, March 3, 2004 2:38 PM

Margrethe Silberschmidt

in order to understand sexuality and sexual behaviour in general and male sexual behaviour in particular, especially in an HIV/AIDS context, there is a need to fo­cus not only on the incidence of particular attitudes and practices, but on the so­cial and cultural context in which sexual activity is shaped and constituted (Gag­non and Parker 1995). Research attention should be directed not merely to the calculation of behavioural frequencies, but to the relations of power and social in­equality within which behaviour takes place (ibid.). It should also be kept in mind that

[m]en and women engage in sexual relations for an array of reasons that range from the pursuit of pleasure, desire for intimacy, expression of love, definition of self, procreation, domination, violence or any combination of the above, as well as others. How people relate sexually may be linked to self-esteem, self-respect, respect for others, hope, joy and pain. In different contexts, sex is viewed as a commodity, a right or a biological imperative; it is clearly not determined fully by rational decision-making (Carovano 1995:3—4).

Over the past three decades, it has been widely documented that socio-economic change and breakdown of traditional social institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa have left women in a disadvantaged and vulnerable situation with increasing bur­dens and responsibilities (Boserup 1980). In the development debate, though, and also in research, the situation of men and particularly the changes to which this situation has been subjected during the process of socio-economic develop­ment in the twentieth century has been seriously neglected—contrary to that of women. Hardly any attempts have been made to investigate and analyse in gen­dered terms the impact of socio-economic change on men’s lives. Based on my research, this chapter pursues the following arguments: socio-economic change in rural and urban East Africa has increasingly disempowered men. This has re­sulted in men’s lack of social value and self-esteem. With unemployment and men being incapable of fulfilling social roles and expectations, male identity and self­esteem have become increasingly linked to sexuality and sexual manifestations. Multi-partnered sexual relationships and sexually aggressive behaviour seem to have become essential to strengthen masculinity and self-esteem. Linked to this, this chapter shall address the following issue: To what extent are men in East Af­rica who are faced with marginalisation, lack of social value and disempowerment at all motivated for responsible sexual behaviour and HIV/AIDS prevention?

Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East AfricaThus, the aim of this chapter is twofold. First, to illuminate how socio-eco­nomic change has affected men’s lives, masculinities and eventually men’s sexual behaviour patterns. This requires an analysis of inherent meanings of masculinity (as opposed to femininity) in the East African context. However, as definitions of masculinity are also in flux and vary over time, there is a need not only to ex­plore the current pattern of masculinity/ies, but also to look back over the period in which this pattern came into being. A second aim is to challenge conceptions based on gender stereotypes, neglecting the fact that male and female roles and relations have been submitted to profound changes during the socio-economic changes of the past century.

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Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East AfricaMasculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East AfricaMasculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East Africa

Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East Africa
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