School Funding for South African Virgins Ruled Unconstitutional

Fredrick Ngugi June 20, 2016
A South African commission has ruled that girls cannot be excluded from scholarships based on their virginity. Buzz South Africa

A few months after it caused nationwide uproar, the plan by the Uthukela municipality in South Africa to provide university bursaries to girls who remain virgins has been declared unconstitutional by the country’s Commission for Gender Equality, the Guardian reports.

Delivering the ruling on Friday, the commission criticized the program saying it perpetuated sexism by discriminating against women, as it does not subject male students to similar virginity tests.

“It goes against the ethos of the constitutional provisions in relation to dignity, equality and discrimination,” the commission said, giving the Uthukela municipality 60 days to respond to the ruling.

Many human rights organizations have applauded the ruling, agreeing that the program violates both the constitution and dignity of women.

Rationale Behind the Idea

Earlier this year, Dudu Mazibuko, the mayor of Uthukela municipality in KwaZulu-Natal province, declared that only girls who preserved their virginity could access scholarships for their university studies. Many human rights organizations criticized Mazibuko’s ruling, terming it patriarchal and inequitable.

Zulu Reed Dance

A group of young virgins during a Reed Dance in South Africa. Photo (kwizoo.com)

Dudu, who is a member of the ruling party ANC, said this move was aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancies, adding that the recipients of the fund would be subjected to virginity tests at the end of every semester. If one was found to have engaged in sexual activities, her scholarship would be terminated.

Virginity Testing in South Africa

In 2005, the South African parliament passed the Children’s Bill, which criminalized virginity testing among other human rights violations such as traditional circumcision. The bill was met with absolute resistance, particularly from members of the Zulu ethnic group, who have practiced it for many years.

Every year, the Zulu tribe holds a reed dancing ceremony also referred to as ‘Umkhosi woMhlanga” during which hundreds of girls undergo virginity testing and dance bare-breasted in front of their king.

Virgins are then rewarded with virginity certificates.

President Jacob Zuma, a member of the Zulu community, has always attended the annual Reed Dance ceremony and other traditional dance events, sometimes participating in the dance while dressed in the customary attire of the Zulu people.

Many activists have persistently condemned the ceremony saying it continues to portray women as sex objects.

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