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Update: South African Mayor Defends "Virgins-Only" Education Grants

Photo: Schalk van Zuydam / AP Photo.
Update: The mayor of South Africa's Uthukela municipality, Dudu Mazibuko, has responded to criticisms of scholarships that grant educational funds specifically to female students who pledge to remain virgins.

Mazibuko told the BBC that the virginity-based scholarships are an investment in the lives of young women, and that there are many other scholarships available to women that are not dependent on sexual abstinence.

"The scholarship is not a reward but a lifelong investment in the life of a girl, we are also not condemning those who've made different choices because we accommodate them in other scholarships," she said. The BBC adds that 16 of the 100 available scholarships have been given to female virgin students so far.

Activists have argued that linking sexual choices with education grants is unfair to girls. But for some young women in the municipality, it is the only choice they have. As one 18-year-old student, Thubelihle Dlodlo, told the BBC, "Remaining a virgin is my only chance to get an education because my parents can't afford to take me to school."

This story was originally published on January 23, 2016.
A school district in South Africa has offered female university students education grants — but only so long as they remain virgins.

According to Agence France Presse, the municipality of Uthukela, in the southeastern area of South Africa, is offering student grants to women who agree to remain virgins throughout their studies. Jabulani Mkhonza, a spokesman for the municipality, told AFP that the money was for young girls who were still virgins and that the goal was to encourage “young girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies.”

The girls will be subject to virginity tests at the beginning of every school semester and when they come back from breaks. The grants will be rescinded if they are found to not be virgins.

Leaving aside the question of bodily autonomy and policing women’s sexuality, there is no way to actually confirm whether or not someone is a virgin. So-called “virginity tests” usually examine the hymen, a membrane inside the vagina, to see whether it has been ruptured or torn. However, there are both many ways for a woman to break her hymen — such as bicycle riding or exercise — and many ways for a hymen to be shaped, including a barely there fringe of tissue. According to The Independent, most of the factors looked at as proof of virginity are, in fact, myths.

Unfortunately, there may be little recourse for young women who want an education but don’t want to submit to an invasive test. Many students in South Africa cannot afford the education fees that come with a university education and must rely on grants. In 2015, a proposed tuition hike of 10-12% led to protests and demonstrations by low-income students who said that higher prices would prevent their education.