South Africans were taken aback when the mayor of Uthukela district of eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, Dudu Mazibuko told the BBC news that she would only award college scholarships to 16 young girls for remaining virgins.
Mazibuko said on Friday that 113 students within the Uthukela municipality would receive college scholarships in the country and 16 of those were earmarked for sexually inactive students as part of a program called the Maiden’s Bursary Awards. Those who receive the Maiden’s Bursary Awards would have to provide proof from regular virginity tests in order to keep their funding, the mayor said.
“To us, it's just to say thank you for keeping yourself and you can still keep yourself for the next three years until you get your degree or certificate,” Mazibuko explained in an interview on radio.
According to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, with an estimated 6.3 million people in the country who are HIV-positive. KwaZulu-Natal is one of the worst affected provinces in the nation. Recent data also shows that teen pregnancy has been on the rise in South Africa since 2011. The country’s department of basic education recorded about 20,000 pregnancies among girls and young women in schools in 2014.
Despite public disapproval of the campaign, the mayor has defended it claiming that both the young women and the community of Uthukela have agreed on the condition at hand.
Virginity Testing Unconstitutional
People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) has since slammed bursary programme. Powa’s Palesa Mpapa said, “The fact that we align it to the right to education is not making sense. It’s also discriminating, the girls being lured into bursaries on the basis of virginity and what are we saying about boys?”
Mpapa expressed that the practice of virginity testing was unconstitutional.
“If anyone wants to keep their virginity, it’s their right to do it in their individual capacity. It’s a personal issue, which is not supposed to be done in public and it’s also not good that anyone’s using it in order to get a bursary.”
Mazibuko on the other hand says the programme is meant to encourage young girls to abstain from sex and to rather focus on education.
“There was a study by the health department which found that young girls are more vulnerable than boys. There is no pressure at all, in fact this is an incentive because we are talking girls that have taken the decision to keep their virginity,” the mayor explained.
Professor Ann Skelton from the Centre for Child Law however argued that the programme is discriminatory. This is because even though these bursaries are for a good cause, this is a form of positive discrimination. The problem therefore is the elimination of other deserving students because of this unfair type of requirement or criteria.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) have also expressed their disapproval of the bursary scheme in a statement on their website said that the said the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) should investigate UThukela District Mayor Dudu Mazibuko for coming up with the idea that young women, who were still virgins, be given bursaries from the municipality on condition that they remain "pure".
The DA’s Women, Youth, Children and People Living with Disabilities Spokesperson, Nomsa Marchesi said that the fact that these young women had to undergo virginity testing during each school holiday was an abuse of state power and thus needs to be investigated.
Marchesi claimed the party viewed this as an "invasive practice that strips young women of their dignity, freedom of privacy and choice, and it instils in them a fear of being ostracised and embarrassed for their personal choices, or unfortunate circumstances such as rape.”
She added that Mazibuko had failed to address how issues of rape, incest and sexual abuse would be catered for under this bursary scheme.
The DA further stated that while it respects that virginity testing may be part of certain cultural practices, it is inexplicable that a government department can subject young girls to such an invasive practice under duress because they are desperate to obtain bursaries and accessing opportunities.
Marchesi explained that Government has the responsibility to educate communities about sexual health matters, not to intimidate them into complying with practices that compromise their right to dignity.