Dudu Mazibuko, mayor of the Uthukele district in the KwaZulu-Natal province, gave out scholarships to 16 young women who have chosen to remain “pure and focus on school” last Sunday (Jan. 17), the Associated Press reports. The aid will be renewed as long as the women pass regular virginity tests throughout their time in college.
Gender equality advocates have come out sharply against the initiative for only rewarding virginity in women, and not in men. “Only young women and girls are subjected to this practice,” activist Jessica Thorpe wrote in an op-ed. “Boys are not tested, and hence are not stigmatized or rewarded for their virginity.” Still, others have criticized the idea of rewarding virginity in women at all: “Being sexually active and seeking an education have nothing to do with each other,” Sisonke Msimang from the Sonke Gender Justice project in Johannesburg told Al Jazeera.
According to AP, Mazibuko defended the program on a local talk radio station: “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.” (That argument doesn’t seem to account for the fact that South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world.) Mazibuko also told the BBC that the initiative is intended to reduce the rates of HIV, AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies.
“I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don’t agree with is giving bursaries for virginity,” said Mfanozelwe Shozi, the head of the government-backed Commission for Gender Equality. “There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far.”