The Cultural Ecology of Youth and Gender-Based Violence in Northern UgandaGANDA

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Twenty years of conflict in northern Uganda has resulted in high rates of gender-based violence, unintended pregnancy and a generation exposed to a lifetime of violence. Understanding gender socialization is critical because gender role differentiation intensifies during adolescence, and hierarchies of power in intimate relationships are established.

Life histories with 40 adolescents in transitional life stages; puberty, older adolescents, newly married and new parents give voice to gendered experiences of puberty, sexuality, reproduction and violence. 35 in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals nominated by youth as significant in their lives. The Cultural Systems Paradigm (CSP) offers an organizing framework to understand the intersectionality of the components of cultural systems within which youth develop.

Social settings, systems and processes shape the acquisition of gender identities. Adolescents depend on others for care and resources, and their networks play influential roles manifesting idea systems and imposing or mediating historical and economic context. Boys and girls recognize that social norms are gendered and identify mechanisms for "learning" gender. Less evident enculturation processes include gendered time and space, experiences of violence, kinship systems and political and historical influences. Social sanctions maintain gender norms/roles, making it difficult for youth to forge new ways of interacting. Study results elucidate the ways masculine and feminine identities are shaped by observation and experience of intimate partner violence and harsh physical punishment. The experience of internal displacement solidified inequitable gender norms, fostering masculinities rooted in violence. Results also suggest that gender is stamped on the bodies of developing boys and girls during puberty. This stage also marks the beginning of vigilant enforcement of increasingly rigid gender roles by family, peers and community.

Recognition of the power of hidden influences and social sanctions for gender role transgressions informed an intervention which encourages youth to reflect critically on the examples in their lives and amplifies the voices of gender equitable role models. Building on pathways of resistance to hegemonic gender identities identified during the research, a life course approach was developed to provide differentiated, yet complementary, interventions at key transition points.