The timing and role of initiation rites in preparing young people for adolescence and responsible sexual and reproductive behaviour in Malawi

Alister Munthali, University of Malawi
Eliya M. Zulu, African Institute for Developpment Policy Research (AFIDEP)

This paper examines timing of puberty and mechanisms through which society prepares adolescents to understand and deal with it in Malawi. The results show that the onset of menarche in girls and various pubertal body changes in boys can be a cause of joy, excitement, or distress depending on how young people understand what this means to them at this critical stage when they start defining and comprehending their sexuality. Much more emphasis is put on educating girls about reproductive implications of menarche than on what is expected of boys as sexual beings, which may contribute to boys’ greater indulgence in risky sexual behaviors than girls. The significance of initiation ceremonies in some communities provides an important platform through which programs can reach many adolescents and intervene, particularly in addressing the widely held notion among initiates that attending these ceremonies symbolizes that one is not a child anymore and can have sex.

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Presented in Session 71: Sex education: the intersection of traditional systems