These Absurd Virginity Scholarships In South Africa Are Unfairly Limiting Girls' Access To Education
Sixteen high school and college girls were given scholarships strictly for remaining "pure" virgins in the Uthukela district of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province. The Associated Press reported that the scholarship was introduced this year, as part of a program by the mayor's office that awards more than 100 local students with funds for school. These virginity scholarships are abhorrent for many reasons, but one of the most obvious is that a girl's sexual history has nothing to do with her education.
Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told South African talk radio station 702 that the girls voluntarily stayed virgins and agreed to regular virginity tests to keep the scholarships. "To us, it's just to say thank you for keeping yourself and you can still keep yourself for the next three years until you get your degree or certificate," Mazibuko told the radio station. If one of the recipients can't prove that she's still a virgin in the future, her funding won't be renewed. These types of tests are reportedly common among Zulus, the nation's largest ethnic group, and is usually done by a local elderly woman. According to The Week, the girl is laid down in front of relatives as the woman checks whether or not her hymen is still intact.
"I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don't agree with is giving bursaries for virginity," Mfanozelwe Shozi, the chairman of South Africa's Commission for Gender Equality, told the Associated Press. "There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity, and even against boys. This is going too far." According to Shozi, though, testing a girl's virginity isn't unconstitutional as long as she gives consent.
Even if it is legal, whether or not a female student is a virgin has no impact on her ability to study or learn. Having sex doesn't automatically make a young woman lose her intelligence, academic skills, or motivation. If the point is to prevent students from getting pregnant and subsequently dropping out of school, a much more pragmatic and inclusive approach would be to teach students about family planning and contraception rather than essentially paying girls who remain abstinent.
Rewarding students for maintaining their virginity and taking away their education when they don't furthers the antiquated, sexist notion that women are "impure" or "ruined" once they have sex outside of marriage. Deciding which students receive funding for school based on their virginity (or lack thereof) also sends the message that girls who have had sex no longer deserve an education. In case you were unsure, let me clear something up for you — all girls deserve an education.
(It's also important to note that this excludes victims of sexual assault, who didn't choose to lose their virginity, from receiving the scholarship, but the problems with punishing rape victims could be an entire story on its own.)
The fact that virginity tests exist at all is bad enough, but using them to choose scholarship recipients unfairly allows girls' sexual history to determine their educational future. Of course, male students aren't held to the same requirement, so it creates a double standard that helps no one. It's 2016 — let's all agree that girls deserve to go to school just as much as boys and that their sexual past should have zero impact on their access to education.