To protect teenage girls from HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancy in Uthukela district located on the eastern sides of the KwaZulu-Natal province. The district leadership is making a ‘good example’ out of 16 supposedly virgin teenage girls by granting them a conditional scholarship to the University. The lucky 16 girls that secured themselves a scholarship will have to take a regular virginity test to continue receiving the bursary.
The awarding of a conditional scholarship based on the girls’ virginity has elicited a lot of condemnation from various Rights groups. Uthukela district mayor Dudu Mazibuko while speaking to the BBC said they intend to curb HIV/AIDS prevalence rate and incidences of unwanted pregnancies.
Although the mayor’s heart is in the right place, especially considering that there is an estimated 6.3 million South Africans living with HIV; one in ten people have the virus in that country. The move to give conditional scholarship for teenage girls based on their virginity does not agree well in respect to the girls’ rights to education and sexuality.
A South African Rights group, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) spokesperson, Idumeleng Muloko told the BBC Focus, the conditional scholarships are “a violation of the girls’ rights and dignity of the girl child. Virginity testing will never stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.”
The KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most adversely affected provinces in South Africa by the HIV/AIDS menace; it has one of the highest numbers of people living with the virus.
The mayor Mazibuko said that neither the district nor the university’s authorities would conduct the virginity tests. The 16 girls that secured the scholarship were already tested as part of the annual Zulu ceremony, where adolescent girls and young women are pre-selected to perform a reed dance for the King Goodwill Zwelithini.
The BBC asked Ms. Mazibuko if she would be willing to submit her own daughter through the practice. She replied yes and went further to say that her granddaughter was looking forward to taking part in this year’s reed dance for the King.
The Commission for Gender Equality (an institution backed by the government) also criticized the move to award teen girls university scholarships based on their virginity.
The chairperson of the Commission Mfanozelwe Shozi while speaking to the AP news agency said, “I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don’t agree with is giving bursaries for virginity. There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far.”