A South African mayor defended on Wednesday her offer of bursaries for education to young women who remain virgins, saying it would help reduce teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV/Aids as well as widening their job opportunities.
Gender activists and political parties have condemned Dudu Mazibuko’s bursary scheme, with the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party describing it as “patriarchal and anti-women”.
But Mazibuko, mayor of a small district municipality in KwaZulu Natal province, said she expects the number of awards to rise to more than 100 next year as students seek assistance with university fees. Four young women were awarded the inaugural maiden bursaries in 2015 and 16 this year.
“As part of the incentive, for those maidens who have remained pure until they finish high school, we say they can go further and study. Here, we are not emphasizing the academic excellence,” Mazibuko told Reuters.
She said communities in KwaZulu Natal, located along South Africa’s east coast and which has high rates of unemployment among its 670,000 people, were supportive of the scheme.
“We are not running a virginity testing agency as the municipality, but we are working with the communities.
“The culture is very strong in KwaZulu Natal of virginity testing, in fact it is growing stronger because of HIV and Aids and teenage pregnancy,” said Mazibuko, who is a member of the ruling African National Congress.
Prospective bursary applicants needed to provide a community-issued certificate of virginity, she said.
Hlengiwe Hlophe, deputy secretary general of the EFF, the third largest party in parliament, called for the scheme to be canceled immediately.
“It must not be based on sexually invading them, testing them and requiring proof of ‘purity’ to access education funding,” she said in a statement.