The health minister for South Africa’s Limpopo province has drawn social media ire over comments she made pertaining to sex education while she was addressing schoolgirls during a visit.
According to TimesLIVE, Phophi Ramathuba advised the schoolgirls to “open your books and close your legs” while she was entreating them to refrain from sexual activities to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and also mitigate teenage pregnancies in schools.
“Some young people have contracted HIV/Aids because they are with older people, they want blessers. The smartphone and Brazilian hair they bought you doesn’t come for free, it comes with a disease. We should ban these Brazilian hair extensions in our schools,” Ramathuba said.
“To the girl child I say: Open your books, and close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Thank you very much!” she added.
But Ramathuba’s comments have been criticized on social media with a number of people arguing she’s shifting the sexual responsibility burden on girls – though boys/men also need to be held accountable for their actions. Her comments were also deemed “deeply problematic”, with people suggesting she should rather be advising “boys to keep their zips closed.”
“‘To the girl child: open your books and close your legs’ – says the *Health* MEC. @PhophiRamathuba – this kind of narrative to young children is deeply problematic. Shifts responsibility to girl children to shoulder the burden of safe sex practices & rape culture. It’s rubbish,” Siviwe Gwarube, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Official Opposition in Parliament, posted.
“Government leaders perpetuating deeply patriarchal notions that have been proven to be damaging and have shielded boy children and men from accountability. This kinda thinking has allowed rape culture to thrive. It’s all bloody depressing,” Gwarube added.
“I hate messages like these , I deal with sexual abuse cases against children on a daily, girl children are sexually abused every single day , the narrative that teenage pregnancy is due to girls being promiscuous is ill informed ,mysogynistic and downright disrespectful,” another user shared.
A user also tweeted: “It’s 2022 and adults still think putting the burden on young girls to ‘close their legs’ counts as sex education and is an appropriate way to address young girls being preyed on by adult men.”
Responding to the criticisms, Ramathuba told TimesLIVE people had taken her comments out of context, adding that her message was also meant for schoolboys. “I told the boys to focus on their education and not sleep with girls,” she said.
Ramathuba also claimed her message was lauded by her constituent. “My constituent appreciated the message. They were even saying that they were afraid to say these things and thanked me for calling a spade a spade,” she said.
Per South Africa’s Department of Health data on national deliveries in health facilities, 132,612 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 reportedly got pregnant in 2021.
The number of teenage pregnancies that were recorded in South Africa’s provinces also largely shot up during the pandemic last year, per BBC. But authorities ceased the introduction of sex education initiatives in a number of schools after parents voiced their displeasure.
And though South Africa also has a sexual offenses act as well as a registry of offenders, a significant number of victims don’t report these crimes out of fear.