South Africa’s virginity scholarship stirs up controversy
For the past week, there has been a storm over the introduction of the Maiden’s Bursary Award in the Uthukela district of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. The award, a college scholarship uniquely for certified virgins, was pushed by mayor Dudu Mazibuko in order to encourage girls to focus on their education while remaining “pure”. The young women are required to remain virgins while in school; each year virginity tests will be carried out to that effect. If they lose their virginity, the funding will be lost, too.
While this may seem bizarre at first, there appears to be a method to the madness. South Africa has a high rate of pregnancies among girls and young women in school with KwaZulu-Natal having the highest rate of births to teenage mothers in the country. In addition to this, girls in eastern and southern African make up over 80 percent of new HIV infections. South Africa has the highest global rate of people living with HIV.
Mazubiko argues that the young women need the scholarship because they are most vulnerable to exploitation, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. One of the 16 young women who received the scholarship has also voiced her gratitude.
Despite this, there is a lot of criticism against the award. An online petition against the scholarship and virginity testing has even managed to gain over 1,000 signatures. Local women’s rights groups have risen up to warn against the policing of women’s bodies, reminding that young men are not tested for virginity in the way women are. It has also been argued that the award discriminates against boys.
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