In 2016, Nothile Mchunu, 19, and Mendi Mdluli, 18, were among the 16 who received bursaries to study at university.
The initiative brought about by then district mayor and current speaker Dudu Mazibuko attracted controversy after it was conceived about three years ago, and this led to the intervention by the Commission for Gender Equality.
Students had to be virgins to qualify for the bursary and at the time Mazibuko had said this was one way of encouraging girls not to get involved in sexual activities which increased chances of getting pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
On Tuesday, the two young women, both in their third year at the University of the Free State, said the initiative would have gone a long way in helping young girls reaching their dreams.
“The bursary should not have been stopped because it was one way of saving and protecting young women from opportunistic men. More than that, it was a way of motivating young women to respect their bodies. It’s a pity that the bursary was stopped because it was one way of telling young girls: good behaviour and education first, and everything else will follow,” the girls said.
The commission, after its investigation, found that any finding by an organ of state based on a woman’s sexuality “perpetuated patriarchy and inequality”.
Javu Baloyi, the commission’s spokesperson, said their decision against the bursary was based on constitutional prescript, and that the bursary had exposed virgins to potential harm.
“This endeavour discriminated against those who were not virgins.
“Some of these girls lost their virginity through rape, while some lost their virginity through certain forces of nature. Some of those who passed virginity testing fell victim to men who wanted to sleep with them,” Baloyi said.
He said they have reports of four girls who were raped in KwaZulu-Natal for being virgins, and that they attended to the cases and offered social workers and psychologists for the victims.
“That’s why we ruled against bursary for virgins. The initiative has good intentions but it can attract harm to the girls, and it is discriminatory. What barometer do they use to tell if a boy is a virgin? These are some of the things overlooked by the initiative,” he said.
Mazibuko said she believed that the bursary would have helped in fighting the socio-economic and other challenges existing in various communities.
“The Gender Equality (Commission) should have helped the municipality to come up with a strategy so that the initiative does not discriminate (as they said it does) instead of instructing the municipality to stop it,” Mazibuko said.
Simphiwe Mkhonza, Uthukela spokesperson, said after the commission’s ruling and recommendations, the council had decided to integrate the maiden bursary into the entire bursary scheme of the municipality.
“I’m not in a position to say how many students had graduated from the initial 16 because there are some who had to apply like others, so it won’t be easy to tell if those who were affected after the integration were able to get funding since recipients were now drawn from the entire population of applicants,” Mkhonza said.