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Negotiated silence: the management of the self as a moral subject in young Ethiopian women's discourse about sexuality

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In Ethiopia, as in many other countries, moral discourses about female sexuality in general, and pre- and extramarital sexual experience in particular, create an environment that discourages women from engaging in open dialogue about their sexuality and their past or future sexual experience. In the study of induced abortion among unmarried women in Addis Ababa on which this paper rests, women describe a situation in which they are both surrounded by silence about sexual issues and forced to remain silent themselves. This paper investigates the nature of, and conditions for, this silence and the ways in which it is socially brought about and negotiated. In particular, it explores the ways through which young, unmarried women who have undergone abortion seek to reconcile seemingly contradictory, condemning discourses about premarital sex and more general codes addressing social, as well as moral, propriety and integrity. The discussion highlights that, while issues of sexuality are silenced, neither the silence nor the silencing power of dominant, gendered moral discourses is absolute. Moreover, silence may also be jointly produced and negotiated in social discourse fraught with moral objectives and ends.
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Keywords: Ethiopia; female sexuality; moral discourse; negotiated silence; premarital sex

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway 2: Research and Development Unit, Church City Mission, Oslo, Norway

Publication date: November 2, 2014

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