Delivering culturally sensitive, sexual health education in western Kenya: a phenomenological case study
While generic programmes have been created to raise sexual health awareness, these cannot always be applied to communities whose cultures and circumstances make them especially vulnerable to infection. Taking a phenomenological approach, this paper examines the circumstances of the Gusii people of Kisii, Kenya, and examines the specific challenges of providing sexual health education to the community as experienced by an ethnic Gusii woman, Joyce Ombasa. Joyce’s story reveals that the Gusii living in and around rural villages have several cultural characteristics that make them susceptible to HIV/AIDS and that render community health education problematic, especially if offered by a female educator of the same ethnicity. Women cannot teach men. Discussions of sex and condom use, and viewing the naked bodies of the opposite sex are taboo. Promiscuity is commonplace and there is a reluctance to use condoms and to undergo HIV testing. Female circumcision persists and there is a high rate of sexual violence, incest and intergenerational sexual intercourse. In addition, government policies and legislation threaten to exacerbate some of the sexually risky behaviours. Bringing HIV education and female empowerment to the rural Gusii requires a culturally sensitive approach, discarding sexual abstinence messages in favour of harm minimisation, including the promotion of condom use, regular HIV testing and the rejection of female circumcision and intergenerational sex. Trust needs to be built through tactics such as adopting a complex and fluid outsider identity and replacing formal sex education with training in income generating skills and casual discussions regarding condoms and sexual health.
Keywords: circumcision, ethnic health, Gusii, harm minimisation, HIV/AIDS, NGO, outsider identity