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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sexual health and social suffering of youth who head households in Nakuru County, Kenya Lee, Laura May


The HIV epidemic and political violence in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990’s have changed structures of care as orphans become caregivers and socioeconomic resources are depleted. As a result, the number of youth who head households has dramatically increased in the region. The dissertation explores how young women who head households in two areas (one urban, one rural) of Nakuru County, Kenya experience sexual ill health and violence in gendered ways, how they embody suffering, and how they respond to suffering amid shifting systems of care in their social environment. Drawing on participatory and community-based research with 58 youth (29 young women; 29 young men) who head households aged 15 to 24 years, I document the interactions of youth with social actors in their environment. Drawing on theories of social suffering and structural violence, I describe their daily-lived experience and the perspectives of youth and community members on the causes and potential methods for alleviating suffering and improving sexual health. I elaborate upon the ways that young women experience and embody violence and suffering in their daily lives. Analysis reveals the relational nature of youth’s suffering and how they navigate supportive and exploitive social relations in daily life. The dissertation makes a contribution to the understanding of sexual health and social suffering of socially vulnerable young women in sub-Saharan Africa by showing the social, physical, moral, political and symbolic ways in which young women embody suffering. Amid exploitive and stigmatizing experiences, social support is shown to be critical to sustaining and increasing the young women’s life force, as they seek to endure and to create opportunities for themselves and their dependents: their siblings, children and ailing adults. The dissertation concludes that young women work to ‘re-create’ structures of support that maintain family relations and stresses the importance of social support in improving their sexual health and wellbeing. It is suggested that programs and policies should be reoriented to support young women in their caregiving roles and to create a supportive social environment by allocating resources to strengthen extended family and community relations.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada