Experiences with Intimate Relationships : Voices of Vulnerable Adolescent Girls in Zambia
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Adolescent girls in the developing world tend to face many risks and vulnerabilities including HIV infection, unintended and early pregnancy, and gender based violence. One area in which vulnerable girls can be empowered is regarding their intimate and sexual relationships. Understanding girls’ beliefs, behaviors, and experiences within these relationships is critical for informing policies and intervention programs. The findings presented in this paper are based on in-depth interviews conducted among a subset of adolescent girls who are part of the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program, an ongoing randomized control trial study focused on vulnerable 10-19 year olds across Zambia. Questions about intimate and sexual relationships were asked only to 15-19 year olds. Findings suggest that adolescent girls experience pressure to be in a relationship and have sex, and often experience coercion and violence within their intimate relationships. The use of contraceptives was not consistent, despite the desire to prevent pregnancy and STIs. Girls’ decision-making power was inconsistent. These findings add to a body of research that highlights the burdens faced by vulnerable girls, particularly in the context of gender relations and negotiation. We expound on programmatic implications of our findings.