Academic journal article Population

Premarital Sexuality, Gender Relations and Unplanned Pregnancies in Ouagadougou

Academic journal article Population

Premarital Sexuality, Gender Relations and Unplanned Pregnancies in Ouagadougou

Article excerpt

Introduction: context and theoretical framework

Young people in sub-Saharan Africa, as elsewhere in the developing world, are more and more often sexually active before marriage (Wellings et al., 2006). This phenomenon is linked to a rise in the age of marriage and to an increasing gap between the age at first sexual intercourse, which is stable or slightly rising, and age at first union (Gupta and Mahy, 2003; Mensch et al., 2006; Delaunay and Guillaume, 2007). In Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, median age at first union is 20.0 years for women and over 30 years for men, compared with 17.6 years for women and 25.4 years for men in rural areas, and median age at first sexual intercourse is 18.6 years for women and 20.0 for men in Ouagadougou, versus 17.4 and 20.9 years, respectively, in rural areas (INSD and ORC Macro, 2004). Data from the 2003 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicate that, in Ouagadougou, 25% of single women aged 15-24 had had sexual intercourse during the previous year, versus 19% in rural areas; for men, the figures are 52% and 26%, respectively. Premarital sexual activity is frequent, especially in urban areas, among the most educated and socially advantaged young people.

Premarital sexuality has become more common among young Africans in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over the last two decades, many of the interventions designed to promote risk-free sexual behaviour have targeted this particular population group. Survey data show that while use of condoms has risen over the period, young Africans who engage in sexual intercourse are still insufficiently protected (Cleland and Ali, 2006; Hindin and Fatusi, 2009). A neighbourhood survey conducted by the Population Observatory of Ouagadougou in 2010 shows that among unmarried women who need family planning (they have had intercourse, are not pregnant and do not want to have children over the next two years), 23% use a modern method (either condoms or birth control pills) and 62% use a natural method, mainly periodic abstinence, often called the "rhythm method" (Rossier and Ortiz, 2011). The low rate of modern contraceptive use results in a high rate of clandestine abortion among young women (Shah et al., 2004). A recent study estimated a clandestine abortion rate of 25 per 1,000 among women aged 15-49 in Burkina Faso (Sedgh et al., 2011). This practice is more common in urban areas and mainly concerns young women: in Ouagadougou, 74% of women who have an abortion are unmarried at the time and 82% do not yet have children.

Premarital sexuality in Africa has been the subject of many studies since the early 1990s, and interest in the subject has been reinforced by evidence that young people engage in sexual relations without adequate protection. The first studies showed that adolescents are turning away from traditional values which condemn sexual relations before marriage in most African societies (Sawadogo, 1993; Bardem and Gobatto, 1995; Ouédraogo, 1996; Ouédraogo et al., 2006).(2) These changes in representations are attributed to a weakening of the elders' authority over young people and the spread of Western values, linked to urbanization which is often cited as a factor in the rise of extramarital sexuality (Kobiane and Yaro, 1996). Other studies covering the same time period point to the gradual abandonment of arranged marriage (Beldsoe and Pison, 1994).

More recent studies stress that these developments do not constitute a break with the past; new attitudes follow tradition in certain respects. For example, "free" choice of a spouse is perceived in terms of norms and family aspirations, and family approval remains fundamental to the marriage process (Attané, 2007). In Ouagadougou, as in other African cities, traditional and Western ways of life coexist, rather than constituting two distinct contradictory social realities (Calvès, 2007; Mazzocchetti, 2007). Because of their rapid growth and the rural exodus, cities in Africa are populated to a large extent by people born in rural areas: in the suburban neighbourhoods studied by the Population Observatory of Ouagadougou, 52% of residents over 15 years of age were born in rural areas (Rossier et al. …

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