South Africa’s “Virgin Scholarships” Spark Women Rights Debates

A South African mayor has proposed a strange way to ensure young girls remain chaste — and it is costing him big time with women's rights groups.

Virgin Girls

A South African municipality’s announcement about a new grant scheme for girls has sparked outrage among the women’s rights groups for pinning virginity to education.

The Uthekela municipality in KwaZulu-Natal announced last week that 16 girls would be eligible for scholarship under the Maiden's Bursary Awards program. The catch? They have to remain virgin throughout the course of their university.

The mayor’s office awards grants to more than 100 girls from the Uthukela district each year. These year, however, scholarships for students who remain “pure and focused on school” came into play. Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told the South African radio station 702 the girls who applied for this particular scholarship choose to stay chaste and agreed to have regular virginity tests done on them to keep their sponsors.

"Those children who have been awarded bursaries will be checked whenever they come back for holidays. The bursary will be taken away if they lose their virginity," Jabulani Mkhonza, the spokesperson for the municipality, told AFP news agency.

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The People Opposing Women Abuse group expressed shock that taxpayers’ money would be spent on violating girls’ rights.

"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."

According to a 2015 report by Center for Strategic and International Studies, East and South African girls account for over an astounding 80% of all new HIV infections — it is also the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-24 years. In 2013, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi quoted that at least 28 percent of South African girls are HIV positive compared with 4 percent of boys.

Some activists have called for the banning of virginity testing in South Africa, describing the practice as being invasive and sexist. People who defend it say it helps in the preservation of their tradition as well as spread awareness of reproductive health among girls.

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