Virgin girls who support other young women to be “pure and focus on school” have the chance to be one of 16 young women to earn a virgin scholarship in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.
South African Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko confirmed the scholarship’s existence, saying that virgin applicants voluntarily keep their virginity and submit to regular checks to ensure each applicant remains a virgin, according to the Associated Press.
“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 radio station during an interview.
Municipality spokesman Jabulani Mkhonza explained that the concept is “a new category which the mayor has introduced this year,” and encourages “young girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies.” He also reiterated the mayor’s plans to ensure each applicant remained a virgin.
“Those children who have been awarded bursaries will be checked whenever they come back for holidays. The bursary will be taken away if they lose their virginity.”
According to the Agence France-Presse, several civil society groups were shocked and outraged by the virgin scholarship.
The People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) group could not believe that taxpayers’ dollars were going to be used to violate women and their rights to check that each girl remained a virgin.
Powa’s executive director, Nonhlanhla Mokwena, said, “Powa is shocked to hear that young girls are being tested for virginity in order to get bursaries… it’s a violation of their rights.”
Virgin women offered scholarships in Uthukela, South Africa, is just another way poor students look for money to receive a higher education. Last year, planned university fee hikes were the cause of some violent protests from people feeling the pressure to find scarce resources to go to college.
The mayor claims the scholarship is given to virgin women because women are often the victims of sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.
However, some believe the scholarship is sexist and unfairly excludes men. The chairman for the Commission for Gender Equality, Mfanozelwe Shozi, agrees with “the intentions of the mayor” but doesn’t agree that scholarships should be given to any virgin.
Shozi added, “There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far.”
South Africa’s constitution does allow virginity checks, as long as they are consensual. However, activists want this to be changed, saying the practice is sexist against women. Those who want to keep virgin checks believe it is a rich part of South African culture and the practice has been modernized to teach women about their reproductive systems and about STDs.
According to the Associated Press, South Africa’s department of basic education noted around 20,000 pregnancies in girls and young women who were still attending school in 2014. Astonishingly, 223 girls were pregnant in primary school, according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation. A household survey carried out by Statistics South Africa showed as many as 5.6 percent of South African girls aged 14 to 19 were pregnant in 2013.
Only time will tell if the virgin scholarships will reduce the amount of pregnancies in the area by encouraging virgin girls to remain so for a longer amount of time and to encourage other girls to do so, as well.
In the meantime, virgin scholarships will continue as planned. The mayor plans to give out around 100 virgin scholarships per year to high school and university students in the area.
[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]