UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Perceptions and Experiences of Pakistani-Descent Female Adolescents Living in Canada, on Developing Sexuality and Self-Identity Punjani, Neelam Saleem; Hegadoren, Kathleen; Hirani, Saima; Mumtaz, Zubia; Jackson, Margot; Papathanassoglou, Elizabeth


Immigrant adolescents make up a substantial proportion of newcomers to Canada. Most newcomer youth from South Asia aged 15 to 24 are from racialized “visible minority” backgrounds. The sexual health needs of female immigrant adolescents in Canada have been largely unmet and have increased in magnitude over the last few years. For immigrant female adolescents, the silence around issues of sexuality needs can affect their physical, emotional, sexual health, and overall well-being as well as their ability to reach their full potential. Evidence suggests that immigrant adolescents lack sexual and reproductive health knowledge and use fewer sexual health-related services and sex education resources than non-immigrant youth. In Pakistani immigrant adolescents, this difference appears to be associated with socio-cultural and religious practices. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore the experience of developing sexuality and its relationship to well-being in middle- to late-female adolescents of Pakistani-descent, living in a large urban area in Canada. The study aimed to establish space for dialogue and to bridge the perceived cultural divide on issues of sexuality using the postmodern feminist lens, which often arises between individuals from different cultural backgrounds. Using the interpretive descriptive methodology, a purposive sample of 21 female adolescents who were of first- or second-generation Pakistan-descent was obtained. Participants included female adolescents aged from 14 to 19 years. Data were collected using a semi-structured interview guide and a timeline. A total of 21 first interviews and seven follow up interviews were conducted. The narratives and timelines presented in this study tell the story of female Pakistani adolescents, their narratives, and the timelines reflect the complexities of the sexuality of female adolescents and how they perceive and attribute meanings to their experiences. The study found that living in a bicultural world can cause significant stress and anxiety among female adolescents, especially when making personal life decisions related to sexuality. Moreover, silence around all aspects of female sexuality negatively affects the capacity for desire and pleasure. In addition, the intersection of gender and patriarchy have created layers of power and oppression in adolescent lives that tightly control their sexuality. The participants’ stories reveal the complex interaction of factors that influence the behavior of female adolescents related to sexuality and sexual health. These findings establish the need for cultural awareness while viewing each girl’s experience in relation to the intersectionality of social spheres such as race, ethnicity, culture, and religion. Finally, this study provides implications to policymakers to revise the existing policies and create youth-friendly policies for immigrant youth to draw attention to the hidden voices of female adolescents and increase the awareness of ways to address issues arising in evolving sexuality.

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