Sunday, 19 June 2016
Court rules South Africa's 'virgin bursaries' scheme is illegal
The Commission for Gender Equality has ruled that a controversial scheme offering university scholarships to young South African women who remain virgins is unconstitutional. A national debate over the so-called "maiden's bursaries" promptly ensued in January after it was set up by a mayor.
Critics slammed the scheme's emphasis on virginity as outdated while traditionalists said it would help preserve African culture.
The gender commission said the program was discriminatory towards women because male students were not subjected to the same tests.
"Any funding by an organ of state based on a woman's sexuality perpetuates patriarchy and inequality in South Africa," it said in a statement.
"It is not the cultural practice that is the problem here; it is the allocation of state funds on the basis of girls’ sexuality that violates the constitutional protection to equality, dignity and privacy," said Sanja Bornman, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights.
Recipients of the scholarships, which were offered only to women, were required to undergo virginity testing each time they returned home for holidays, and could lose their scholarships if it was determined that they had engaged in sexual activity.
According to the mayor who initiated the programme, Dudu Mazibuko it would help reduce teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV/Aids as well as widening job opportunities for women in her small municipality in KwaZulu Natal province.
She also argued that there was already a strong culture of virginity testing in the poor eastern coastal province.
But gender activists and some political parties condemned the practice, with the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party describing it as "patriarchal and anti-women".