Image Credits: www.hrw.org
The virginity test row started after it became known that the Mayor of UThukela District Municipality, Dudu Mazibuko, supported the idea of testing virginity in the awarding of bursaries in the municipality’s “Maiden Bursary Award.”
The rules associated with the programme, described by the Democratic Alliance as “draconian”, is said to affront the right to privacy and dignity of young women. It mandates virginity testing for any woman who wishes to be a bursary holder, precluding those who are not virgins.
The programme prescribes that young women must not only be virgins in order to qualify for the bursary, but must remain virgins in order not to booted from the program. To this end, the young women have to undergo virginity testing at each holiday break.
The DA says this is an abuse of state power and needs to be investigated by the SAHRC to determine whether it is constitutionally sound.
The DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Women, Youth, Children and People, Nomsa Marchesi, says this invasive practice “strips young women of their dignity, freedom of privacy and choice”, and instills in them a fear of being ostracised and embarrassed for their personal choices, or unfortunate circumstances such as rape.
Mazibuko justified the testing by stating that young women are the ones heavily relying on social grants after being left to raise children on their own and “are not interested in taking responsibility”. The Mayor stated that the bursary would encourage women to remain “pure”, deter them from premarital sex, and help them focus on their education, as well as keep them from contracting and passing on STI’s to their children.
The Mayor failed to address the question of how young women who were victims of rape, incest and sexual abuse would be catered for under this bursary scheme. Given the alarmingly high incidence of sexual violence against women and children in the country, this is a gross oversight.
While virginity testing may be part of certain cultural practices, it is debatable if government departments can subject anybody to invasive practices. Young women will be subjected to these tests under duress because they are desperate to obtain bursaries and access opportunities.