By Erika D. Coldman
Each year, scholarships are awarded to qualified applicants around the world looking to offset their college expenses. As a recipient myself, I am forever grateful every time I hear horror stories of my friend’s encounter with the well-known stalker, Sallie Mae, to which I always reply, “I don’t know her.” Last week, I stumbled across a story on The HuffPost that read something like, “South Africa awarding female virgins scholarships”.
Say what now? You mean to tell me there are people in this world who would’ve been willing to pay for my undergraduate studies if I remained chaste? The 17 year old me would have eagerly looked up the application.
The Maiden’s Bursary, which has already been awarded to 16 young women, has received mixed reviews across the board. Whereas Uthukela’s mayor, Dudu Maziboko, is in complete agreeance with the program, believing it will help keep girls pure and focused on their education, others find it invasive and discriminatory.
According to http://www.statssa.gov.za, the KwaZulu-Natal province has the highest rate of births to teenage mothers in South Africa (in 2012, more than 26,000 babies were born to girls between the ages of 15-19). The country currently holds the top spot of reported HIV cases (in the world) with a staggering 6.3 million. Initially, this program was intended to reduce both teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS but activist, Jennifer Thorpe believes this will be counterproductive. “What is needed is dialogue, information and the provision of free contraception,” she argues. “This would be a more strategic line of policy for the municipality to pursue.” She also feels that this program will stifle the necessary conversations around safe sex, consent and treatment.
Members of the South African group POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) spoke out with the claim that the twice a year virginity inspection, required to keep the scholarship, is a violation of rights and dignity. Palesa Mpapa states, “The fact that we align it to the right to education isn’t making sense. It’s also discriminating… the girls being lured into bursaries on the basis of virginity and what are we saying about the boys (whose virginity can’t be tested)?”
One recipient, 18 year old Thubelihle, is thankful for the scholarship. She told CNN reporter, “We are keeping away from boys because we want to achieve our goals. I don’t have any children. I must study hard to change and conquer the world.”
Mayor Maziboko combats naysayers by reminding them of the reed dance, stating that virginity has always been celebrated in the Zulu culture. “Young girls are vulnerable,” she says. “They can’t refuse [unwanted sexual advances].” She also points out that not one critic has brought forth a solution *sips tea while basking in the shade…lol*.
Overall, I think the scholarship can be a good thing. For one, there are funds out here for being something as unique as a left-handed person; why can’t there be one for being something as rare as a virgin, amidst arguments that you can’t tie virginity to education. Is sex not considered a distraction, if nothing else, among many? What about the girl who has to drop out of school altogether because she got pregnant? I do agree with Thorpe when she says that conversations need to be had surrounding safe sex and free contraception so there may be some areas where the program could lighten up. Also, the fact that boys are excluded because their virginity can’t be tested is a bit unfair.
At the time I read this story, there were talks that rape victims could be considered in the future so that attempts to cut out any rebuttal in that respect. To say that this is a violation of rights, though, seems to be a bit of a reach. Conducting those exams twice a year is no different than a woman visiting her gynecologist for her annual checkup. It is understood by the recipients that if they fail to meet the requirements of the exam, they will forfeit the scholarship so my question is, if the girls applying don’t have an issue with the stipulations, what is the problem?
I would love to hear your opinions. Comment below or feel free to hit me via Twitter/IG @flawlessamour.