Human rights organizations are aggressively denouncing a scholarship in South Africa that has a peculiar stipulation: it may only be awarded to virgins.
The scholarship is awarded by the municipality of uThukela, and is known as the “Maiden’s Bursary Award.” According to CNN, the women who receive the scholarship must undergo a virginity test (administered by a female elder in the community) every time they come home on vacation. Thirteen young women are currently receiving the scholarship.
The scholarship has provoked an uproar from some segments of South Africa, who say testing whether women have had sex is a total outrage.
“[This is] a violation of the rights and dignity of the girl child,” a spokeswoman for the group People Opposing Women Abuse told the BBC. “Virginity testing will never stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.”
Feminist researcher and activist Jen Thorpe also published a lengthy attack on the policy for Thought Leader.
“Only young women and girls are subjected to this practice. Boys are not tested, and hence are not stigmatised or rewarded for their virginity,” Thorpe wrote. “This practice therefore constitutes a form of gender discrimination, encouraging norms of female chastity in a context where male sexuality is celebrated.” Thorpe also complained that the “virginity test” is not perfectly accurate, and will also exclude girls who are victims of rape (South Africa has an extremely high rape rate).
Some activists in South Africa want the practice of virginity testing banned entirely.
But so far, the mayor of uThukela is refusing to budge. Dudu Maziboko says the scholarship is intended to encourage healthy behavior. Maziboko herself says she became pregnant in high school and wanted to spare today’s young women a similar struggle. She told the BBC that she would be entirely willing to submit her own children and grandchildren to the virginity test. She said for most girls, the test was already administered to determine their eligibility for a traditional Zulu ceremony.
“What I have noticed about all the critics is that they are not bringing solutions,” Maziboko told CNN. She said many other efforts had been attempted in order to curb HIV and unwanted pregnancy, but none had worked.
Similarly, Busiswe Lunga, a woman who helps conduct virginity tests, told News24 that the scholarships would protect girls from the twin traumas of HIV and unwed motherhood.
“Most of the young women contract AIDS, their children get the disease and on top of that, the men leave them and they forget that they still have a long road ahead of them,” Lunga said.
KwaZulu-Natal province has South Africa’s highest teen birthrate, and it also one of the country’s highest HIV infection rates.
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