School of Education

Doctoral Study Focuses on Young Femininities, Sexuality and Violence in Primary Schools

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Dr Naresa Govender
Dr Naresa Govender

Dr Naresa Govender graduated with her PhD in Education for her research that focussed on young femininities, sexuality and violence in the primary school – dedicating her degree to her late mother.

‘I am ecstatic! My mother would have been too. I was just 16-years-old when she passed on. Now at 32, this achievement is a clear reflection of the manner in which she raised me, her blessings and her heavenly guidance,’ said Govender. ‘It wasn’t an easy journey, but let’s say I created gender equality at home. I reside with my father and he took on extra household chores and cooking so that I had extra time to complete my research and for that, I will always be truly grateful.’

Govender explored how the primary school is an active site through which young femininities are constructed as girls reinforce and challenge dominant gender norms. ‘I choose this topic in particular as primary schoolgirls seldom feature in research. Phenomena such as gender, sexuality and violence have not been explored in detail with 12 to13-year-old school girls. Their experiences and voices matter too irrespective of age, culture, socio-economic position and dominant gender norms.’

Her research rejects the dominant focus on girls as passive and docile, instead illustrating the complex ways through which young femininities are produced, negotiated and challenged in relation to heterosexuality. The findings also show that primary schoolgirls as young as 12 to 13 are active agents – sexually and otherwise – and are able to construct and negotiate their own gendered and sexual identities.

‘While girls do reproduce dominant gender norms, they were also found to rupture these norms. For instance, girls spoke of how they dressed up in revealing clothing, had boyfriends and had sexual knowledge and engaged in practises such as kissing. Despite having and expressing their agency in diverse ways, girls were not at liberty from the heteropatriarchal society they stemmed from and this infiltrated into the school context where they spoke of how boys teased, touched and made them feel uncomfortable,’ she explained.

Govender believes that working towards increasing gender and sexual diversity and tolerance within the school environment can help facilitate a general transformation in the conventional binaries learners are obliged to internalise.

‘All avenues to help broaden and spread knowledge on the topics of gender, sexuality, femininity and their relationships to rape culture can serve to empower women and girls and make small but substantial changes in addressing gender inequalities in any given social setting,’ she said. ‘There is not only the need for a wave of gender and sexual diversity awareness in South African primary schools, we have to facilitate the construction of alternate, gender-equitable forms of femininity and sexuality in a country riddled with toxic versions and visions of hegemonic masculinity.’

Govender extended gratitude to her family, friends, and supervisors Dr Shaaista Moosa and Professor Deevia Bhana.

‘I am excited and look forward to building my academic profile by continuing to write research papers focusing on primary school learners and their experiences of gender, sexuality and violence.’

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