South African mayor defends ‘virginity test’ scholarship scheme for girls

© Kai Pfaffenbach
A South African education scheme under fire for offering girls university scholarships on condition they remain virgins has been defended by the local mayor.

Dudu Mazibuko, the mayor of the Uthukela district in south-east South Africa, previously said the girls will be given regular virginity testing as an incentive for students to “keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies”.

Mazibuko said the scholarships, which are available to 16 students, will be renewed “as long as the child can produce a certificate that she is still a virgin”.

“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,” she told a local radio station.

Following a backlash from social rights groups, Mazibuko defended the initiative, launched this year, saying it will combat the country’s growing HIV epidemic.  

The mayor told the BBC that the scheme is intended to "reduce HIV, Aids and unwanted pregnancy" in Uthukela.

© Finbarr O'Reilly

South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with around 6.3 million people living with the disease in 2013, according to AVERT.

A 2012 survey found the rate of women with HIV was nearly double that of men, and new infections of women between the ages of 15 and 24 were four times greater than males of the same age.

The scholarship terms also exclude women who lose their virginity as a result of rape, which is a serious problem across South Africa.

Official crime statistics say there were 53,617 reported sexual offences between 2014 and 2015, a 5 percent drop from the previous year. Given the difficulties surrounding the reporting of such offences, researchers estimate the actual number of sexual assaults is much higher.

Palesa Mpapa of People Opposing Women Abuse, a Johannesburg-based women’s rights group, condemned the scholarship scheme and specifically the use of virginity tests.

In a statement to SA People News, Mpapa said:

“[T]his is a patriarchal mechanism of controlling women’s sexuality for marriage and it does not link to educational success”.

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