A South African mayor is receiving some fallout after she awarded scholarships to 16 young women as a reward for maintaining their virginity.
Dudu Mazibuko, the mayor of the Uthukela district in the south-eastern part of South Africa, admits she only gave financial assistance to young women who agreed to undergo regular “virginity tests.”
“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 a local radio station.
“[A]s long as the child can produce a certificate that she is still a virgin,” the scholarships will be renewed, she clarified.
This initiative, which just launched in 2016, is designed to encourage female high school and university students to “keep themselves pure.”
However, social rights’ groups are deeply insulted by the maligned practice of virginity tests, which are believed to be a form of sexual violation because they involve ensuring the hymen is intact. Human Rights Watch has also pointed out that the testing is “scientifically baseless” since “‘old tear’ of the hymen or variation of the ‘size’ of the hymenal orifice can be due to reasons unrelated to sex.”
Palesa Mpapa of People Opposing Women Abuse, a Johannesburg-based women’s rights organization, is particularly appalled by the message it sends to young adults.
“[T]his is a patriarchal mechanism of controlling women’s sexuality for marriage and it does not link to educational success,” she said in a statement. “It also is a discriminatory practice against girls as boys are never publicly tested for virginity, yet they are parties to the cause for loss of virginity. This practice stigmatizes girls who could have lost virginity through rape or incest.”
Considering rape is currently rampant in South Africa, with 25% of the male population admitting they’ve committed a sexual assault — the scholarship does run a substantial risk of penalizing a recipient whose virginity has been lost without her consent.
Yet despite all these facts, the mayor still believes testing young women is the answer.
“Those children who have been awarded [scholarships] will be checked whenever they come back for holidays,” Jabulani Mkhonza told the Guardian. “The [scholarship] will be taken away if they lose their virginity.”