This phenomenographic study reports on the engagement of refugee girls in sexual relationships with blessers in Tshwane, the capital city of South Africa. Data were collected from 20 refugee girls through open and intense individual interviews guided by a semi-structured interview schedule. The audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and analyzed thematically using Sjöström and Dahlgren’s approach to data analysis. Results indicate that girls engage in the “blesser blessee” relationship in order to escape from poverty, sex work and poor living conditions.

Blessers provide refuge for refugee girls through meeting their basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes and means of communication. However, in the process, refugee girls are disempowered as their life is completely controlled by the blessers. Due to powerlessness, refugee girls end up in engaging in HIV risky sexual behaviour such as unprotected sex regardless of the knowledge that they are in multiple concurrent partner relationship. Despite the gender dynamics and risks involved in the intergenerational relationships, refugee girls consider the blessers as their gateway to freedom and survival in the city of Tshwane. In order to mitigate the risks and powerlessness entailed in blesser-blessee relationships, the researcher recommends development of a multi-sectoral intervention model focusing on harm reduction and empowerment of refugee girls involved in this type of relationship.

Author Biography

Azwihangwisi Helen Mavhandu-Mudzusi is an NRF C rated researcher working at the University of South Africa. She holds a PhD in Public Management, a master’s degree in nursing, an honours degrees in psychology and Nursing. Her main passion is advocacy for marginalised groups, especially people living with HIV and AIDS and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in higher education institutions and rural communities. She has published several articles at national and international journals. She is the recipient of 2017 Women in Science Award (Distinguished women Scientist).