“A non-racist, non-sexist society”, so says the South African constitution. One would think that this idea would have become entrenched in our practice by now. Sadly, however, it seems to be withering.
A Kwa-Zulu Natal Mayor has established a special bursary category for virgin girls. A group of matriculants received the Maiden Award from Mayor Dudu Mazibuko of the UThukela District Municipality. Being a virgin was the only way to get it. Virginity testing is the only way to keep it.
The objective: to keep girls “pure” and focused on their education.
Virginity testing involves inserting fingers into the vaginal cavity to feel whether the hymen membrane is intact. However, most doctors and scientists deem this method inaccurate since the hymen can break due to other forms of physical activity. An intact hymen is a very outdated measure of virginity.
It is not rocket science. Your body is your first form of property. This is why we have laws protecting our privacy, so that we are not subject to being violated by others.
The Children's Act 38 of 2005 has outlawed virginity testing for children under the age of 16. Girls between the ages of 16 and 18 are still subject to this practice; on condition that they have consented to the testing, that they are not marked and that the results are not made public without their consent.
However, what choice do these girls really have? Undergo virginity testing or lose financial aid? This amounts to coercion. It exploits girls who are economically vulnerable. It teaches them that they have no say over their own bodies. It teaches them that their feminine bodies are a determining factor with regard to their success. So much for non-sexism.
Mayor Mazibuko has found a loophole in the law to propagate a practice that is in violation of the South African Bill of Rights.
It appears that Mayor Mazibuko sought the approval of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelintini, who has been calling for this practice to be initiated for a long time. Yet, a representative informed the public that the good King would not comment as he was not involved in the initial planning of this practice. This suggests that the good King believes himself best suited to guide elected office bearers. He seems embittered to have been excluded from designing a program that violates the constitution.
It is clear, from reports on the matter, that there are others who received bursaries despite not being virgins. So, if bursaries are not exclusive to virgins, why bother making the distinction?
Other questions that come to mind are: Who does the testing? What do their parents say? And, the most obvious question: What about the boys? This practice is reserved for girls only.
These underprivileged girls are treated unequally by a government that is meant to represent a constitution which deems them entirely equal to their male counterparts.
The unfortunate reality is that the political leadership of the municipality believes that it is breaking the law for the good of these girls. The claim is that it safeguards them from premature pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids. Quite frankly, educating our daughters and sisters about the perils that go along with sex and unsafe sex in particular, is the only way to go about prevention.