South African mayor offers college scholarships to women—if they’re virgins

January 25, 2016, 11:49am

Students protest at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photo: Marco Longari/Getty Images) on the Huffington Post

Samantha Cowan, the Huffington Post

For many students around the world, high tuition prices make attending college difficult. While scholarships can ease the burden, many feel a scholarship for female South African students comes with too many strings attached.

The mayor of one South African municipality awarded scholarships to 16 girls because they have maintained their virginity, The Associated Press reports.

“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,” Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told a South African radio station.

Recent spikes in university tuition prices in South African universities—which inspired violent protests last year—make grants like these all the more valuable.

The women who applied for the scholarships will be forced to remain virgins until they graduate. That means they’ll be regularly subjected to medical examinations, although the mayor did not explain what those tests would entail.

People Opposing Women Abuse, a South African rights organization, has expressed concern that such scholarships are discriminatory—against male students and women who have had sex or are pregnant.

“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,” Nonhlanhla Mokwena, the group’s executive director, told Agence France-Presse. The group also noted that because the scholarship is through the village, taxpayer money pays for these grants.

Mazibuko said she believes the scholarship will encourage female students to focus on their studies and discourage teen pregnancy, according to the AP.

Although rates of teen pregnancy in South Africa have steadily declined over the past century, studies have found that between 23 percent and 35 percent of all South African women have become pregnant by the time they reach 19 years of age. Pregnancy is a key factor in deterring women from pursuing higher education, according to a joint report from South Africa’s Department of Education and UNICEF. Young women of low economic status are more likely to become pregnant as teens, with many forced to choose parenthood over schooling.

While officials in Uthukela are hoping the financial incentive will keep women from having children at a young age, UNICEF and the Department of Education recommend sex education and access to contraception to curb teen pregnancy and keep young women on track with their education.