While I appreciate the reservations of Lawyers for Human Rights regarding the maiden’s bursary initiated by mayor Dudu Mazibuko of the Uthukela Municipality, I plead for some understanding for this project. The usual arguments against gender inequality, invasion of privacy and discrimination against non-virgins are valid.
But then a young recipient was interviewed on television and articulately extolled her ambitions, claiming she has seen her mates destroyed by early pregnancies and that she wanted the bursary to fulfil her dreams to educate herself so she can have a career. Her explanations and those of the mayor, that the incentive is voluntary and that girls are not compelled to sacrifice their virginity for the sake of the bursary, are as valid and cannot be dismissed as easily.
Her reasons for wanting the bursary are as feminist as the arguments of Lawyers for Human Rights. Although I am against virginity testing as a cultural practice, I am reluctant to judge the mayor, given the burden of unwanted pregnancies rural villages and informal settlements sit with. In 2012, about 140 000 girls fell pregnant while at school, the highest numbers emanating from rural areas.
My experience of mentoring many girls who came close to destroying their lives through teenage pregnancies constrains me from criticising those who are desperate to find solutions. Some girls overcome the disruption to their teenage lives, but the majority do not. For the maiden’s bursary initiative to succeed, it must be accompanied by a thorough reproductive rights programme that involves schools, teachers, principals, and school governing bodies.
Parents should be integrally involved to empower their boys and girls to understand the biological transitions in their lives but not to be captive to hormonal changes. With the HIV/Aids pandemic, our young people have been bludgeoned with messages about safe sex, but few organisations help kids understand romantic love, good sex and the importance of delaying sexual activity until they are ready.
The maiden’s bursary could perhaps include such components into a holistic reproductive rights programme. There are many excellent organisations focusing on teenage pregnancies and they can narrate story after story of tragedy. Let me recount one story of the triumph of a young intern who came to work for me and discovered she was pregnant. With no medical aid, no parental help and no money, she had her baby in one of Cape Town’s worst hospitals.
It was traumatic and she vowed never to have another child. Not long thereafter, she fell pregnant again. This time I was enraged. I explained various options and she decided to terminate her pregnancy. She enrolled for several courses with colleges and the Cape University of Technology. Today, she has several qualifications; she has a new car; she has bought a house in a middle-class residential area and her son is at a good school.
She is a great mother, wise beyond her years, and ambitious. There is life after an unwanted baby. Too many of our kids are hobbled by teenage pregnancies when they are still in need of care. That is why, as a feminist, I refuse to criticise mayor Mazibuko for her concern because few care about the problem.