Women’s rights activists across the world have criticized Uthukela municipality in South Africa for their absurd grounds for offering scholarships to virgins.
A director at the Saartjie Baartman Centre – Shaheema McLeod elaborated on what these scholarships say about basic human rights in South Africa. McLeod said she actually thought it was a joke when she read the reports that the KwaZulu-Natal municipality was offering scholarships to 16 young women who were still virgins.
“There’s something very wrong with this picture,” McLeod From the women’s centre says as she questions the reason why equal opportunities are not created for women in South Africa. She asks,
“Why do we have a scenario where the state has the ability to abuse resources to promote their personal agendas?”
She stated clearly that it’s absolutely preposterous for young maidens to be given an ultimatum to remain virgins in order to procure free education in their own country since the conditions for the scholarship clearly states that ‘It’s either you are a virgin or you lose your scholarship’.
The women’s right centre thinks the whole idea is a violation of human rights and will discourage equal opportunity for everyone. Besides, there should be no relationship whatsoever between one’s education and being a virgin.
They also insisted that the idea of using the scholarship scheme as a strategy to reduce HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy is unfounded.
Women’s right activists argued that not only does the scholarship conditions violate civil liberties, it was also counter-productive and myopic in the larger struggle against HIV/Aids in the country.
Sisonke Msimang, a policy development and advocacy consultant for the Sonke Gender Justice project in Johannesburg, described the municipality’s decision as “a terrible idea that has so many layers of ridiculousness”.
“Being sexually active and seeking an education have nothing to do with each other,” Msimang told Al Jazeera.
“We don’t support anything that undermines the rights of women. If these details are true, we would definitely find it objectionable, and engage with the municipality to resolve it,” Charlotte Lobe, media liaison officer at the department of women said.
Another women’s right activist, Jennifer Thorpe said the scholarship programme is trying to say that discouraging women from sex would reduce the spread of HIV, a strategy she said “silences conversation around safe sex, consent, and importantly HIV medication and treatment.”
Purity and chastity are good virtues but they should not qualify one to get free education from your own government. There should be a fine line between these virtues and acquiring education. Besides what will then be the fate of those young maidens who were raped or one way or the other lost their virginity without actually wanting to?
To all these, Jabulani Mkhonza, spokesperson for the municipality, maintains that the scholarships for virgins is a way to encourage “girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies”.