Almost always scholarships for higher education are granted for academic and sports related accomplishments to students who excel in some school related function. However, the mayor of the Uthukela district in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa granted college scholarships to 16 young women for simply remaining virgins and allowing medical tests to be conducted for verification, according to an AP story published in the Tampa Tribune Sunday.
Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told South African talk radio station 702 the education grants will be renewed “as long as the child can produce a certificate that she is still a virgin.” Critics say the granting of scholarships on behalf of the virginity of girls reeks of sexism and is discriminatory toward male students. For her part the mayor counters that the scholarships focus on young women because they are “more vulnerable to exploitation, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”
There is little consensus on the issuance of such controversial education grants. “I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don’t agree with is giving bursaries for virginity,” said chairman for the Commission for Gender Equality Mfanozelwe Shozi. “There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far.”
Regardless of which side of the argument one takes up, there is little doubt that the country’s school systems have spiraled out of control. According to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s department of basic education recorded about 20,000 pregnancies among girls and young women in schools in 2014, with 223 pregnant girls still in primary school. In addition, a citizen survey based on South African families and conducted by Statistics South Africa found that 5.6 percent of South African females aged 14 to 19 were pregnant in 2013.
“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,” Mayor Mazibuko said.
Virginity testing is not against South Africa’s constitution but it is essential that it is done with consent, said Shozi. Virginity testing in South Africa is a controversial program and opponents have called for banning the practice altogether, tagging it as sexist and invasive. Proponents say it is a cultural practice that preserves tradition and has been updated to educate girls about their reproductive health as it relates to potentially life-threatening diseases like HIV and AIDS.