Perceptions of Adolescent Sexual Activity and the Threat of Schoolgirl Pregnancy in Rural Malawi

Monica J. Grant, University of Pennsylvania

Among girls who ever attended school, only 3.5 percent of 15-19 year olds in Malawi became pregnant before they left school. Despite its relative infrequency, schoolgirl pregnancy has emerged in public discussion in Malawi as a significant social problem. This paper explores parents’ beliefs about adolescent sexual activity and schoolgirl pregnancy, as well as how these perceptions intersect with adolescent sexual agency and influence family decision-making about girls’ schooling. In-depth interviews were collected in rural Malawi from 60 adults aged 25-50 who were the parent of at least one school-aged child. Preliminary analysis of the qualitative data suggests that parents assume pregnancy is a leading reason why girls do not complete school, and that parents equate sexual activity with eventual pregnancy. I hypothesize that parents’ overestimation of their daughters’ risk of pregnancy is contributing to greater school dropout rates among sexually active schoolgirls.

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Presented in Session 14: Gender Dynamics and Reproduction