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Student Grants To Remain Virgins In South Africa

Women's rights activists have criticised a South African municipality for a scholarship programme that funds studies for young women if...

Women's rights activists have criticised a South African municipality for a scholarship programme that funds studies for young women if they can prove they are virgins.

On Friday, the uThekela municipality, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), announced that 113 students would receive scholarships to pursue higher education in the country.

Sixteen scholarships were specifically designated for sexually inactive students, as part of a programme called Maiden's Bursary Awards. 

The programme started in January 2015, but it is unclear how many students were awarded the scholarship in 2015.
Maidens At A Reed Dance 

Sisonke Msimang, a policy development and advocacy consultant for the Sonke Gender Justice project in Johannesburg, said the municipality's decision was "a terrible idea [that] had so many layers of ridiculousness".

"Being sexually active and seeking an education have nothing to do with each other," Msimang told Al Jazeera.

Msimang described the programme as being an embodiment of "level upon level of patriarchal nonsense, unconstitutional misogyny and mixed-up madness".

Jabulani Mkhonza, spokesperson for the municipality, described the scholarships for virgins as a way to encourage "girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies".
Activists Have Castigated The Scholarships 

"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," Mkhonza told AFP news agency.

Reacting to the news, the Department of Women told Al Jazeera they were aware of reports of the scholarship programme, and would be investigating the matter.

"We don't support anything that undermines the rights of women. If these details are true, we would definitely find it objectionable, and engage with the municipality to resolve it," Charlotte Lobe, media liaison officer at the department of women said.

Mkhonza, the spokesperson for the municipality, told Al Jazeera he was not authorised to respond to the criticism, and directed all enquiries to Mayor Dudu Mazibuko. Al Jazeera was not able to reach her.
The Reed Dance Has Become A Tourist Attraction 

Activists argued that not only did the scholarship undermine civil liberties, it was also counter-productive and short-sighted in the larger struggle against HIV/AIDS in the country.

South Africa is home to 6.4 million HIV positive people, the highest in the world. In 2014, Medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) said 25.2 percent of KZN's adult population was HIV positive, compared to the national average of 17.9 percent. 

Women in KZN were also disproportinately affected by the virus, MSF said.

Another activist, Jennifer Thorpe said the scholarship programme inferred that discouraging women from sex would reduce the spread of HIV, a strategy she said "silences conversation around safe sex, consent, and importantly HIV medication and treatment." - Aljazeera 

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