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South Africa's 'virginity grants' ruled unconstitutional

A scheme to give out university scholarships to South African women who remain virgins has been found to be unconstitutional. The ruling commission has said the grants were discriminatory and "perpetuate patriarchy."

So-called "maiden's bursaries" to provide virgin female students with university scholarships were found to be unconstitutional, ruled the South African Commission for Gender Equality on Friday.

"Any funding by an organ of state based on a woman's sexuality perpetuates patriarchy and inequality in South Africa," the commission said in a statement.

The "maiden's bursaries" were awarded to 16 female students in the eastern Uthukela municipality on the condition that they refrain from sex until graduation.

One of the scholarship conditions stated that the female students would be subjected to virginity tests traditionally conducted by elderly women.

The gender commission said that the program discriminated against women since male students were not required to undergo the same tests.

"Virginity is not intrinsic to the task of studying," the commission added.

Dudu Mazibuko, the local mayor who introduced the program earlier in 2016, said in January the grants would help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and curb teenage pregnancy. The mayor also said the scholarships would increase job opportunities for women.

Rights groups and gender activists have condemned the practice of virginity testing, with the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party calling the practice "patriarchal and anti-women."

The commission has given the municipality 60 days to respond to its recommendation that the virginity scholarship grants should be closed.

rs/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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