Meaning making of the gendered experiences of African adolescent girls from child-headed households within their educational and social contexts


D.Ed. (Educational Psychology)Child-headed households are becoming increasingly prevalent in the absences of parents, especially in township and rural communities. Parents become absent for different reasons, such as needing to find employment away from home or falling ill and dying. Many extended families can no longer financially afford to care for the children within their own homes. Often different family members will take in siblings as they are unable to accommodate them all in their home due to lack of space or financial resources. As a result siblings would be scattered within the extended family. Child-headed households have become a solution whereby siblings could keep living together as a unit as well as staying within their known environment. Often, however, the responsibility of managing the households would be placed on the adolescent girls due to gender-role division. This could leave the girls vulnerable to the possibility of dropping out of school as managing a household, caring for younger siblings and keeping up with academic responsibilities places adolescent girls under intense pressure. The research focused on the gendered experiences of African adolescent girls from child-headed households in Orlando-West, Soweto. A qualitative research approach was used and the study was conducted by means of a hermeneutic phenomenological case study research design. Feminism, as a paradigm and main theoretical orientation, framed the study and findings. The data collection methods included two focus group interviews, one group of girls and one of boys. Three specifically selected girl participants living within the contexts of a child-headed home were selected. Over eight months and by means of individual interviews, the completion of a booklet and photo-voice activities the participants shared their gendered experiences with me within the contexts of a child-headed household. The findings of the data analysis indicated that adolescent girls from child-headed households specific to this study had to make meaning of their lives whilst still being influenced by patriarchal cultural practices and traditions from the past. The division of household chores in the home as modelled by parents was an instrumental factor in initiating gender inequality. The second theme related to the adolescent girls’ daily struggles in adverse circumstances as they had to make meaning and continually adjust to living arrangements that were not always stable. By virtue of their gender, dangers from the community were persistent. Living as a girl within a child-headed household also meant being confronted daily with the socio-economic hardships that influenced being able to attain academic support at school, and purchasing toiletries, food and daily necessities for their families

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