Durban – The SA Human Rights Commission is investigating several complaints about the "virginity bursaries" a KwaZulu-Natal municipality is awarding to young women.
"The commission has assessed the complaints received and we have decided to work closely with our colleagues in the Commission for Gender Equality in investigating the matter," SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said.
The complaints were made after 16 young women from KwaZulu-Natal received bursaries from the UThukela District Municipality to study at university, on condition that they remained virgins.
As part of the agreement, they had to agree to be subjected to "virginity testing" every holiday when they returned home. If they failed the test, they would lose their bursary.
The municipality told News24 that the Maidens Bursary Award was a new category of bursary for young women introduced this year, and the brainchild of Mayor Dudu Mazibuko.
A total of 100 young women who did well in their 2015 matric exams were awarded bursaries during the Mayoral Matric Excellence Awards on January 11. The 16 were part of this group.
Critics and gender activists have argued that the tests are an invasion of the young womens' privacy, and that sexuality and seeking an education had nothing to do with one another.
Municipality spokesperson Jabulani Mkhonza said the bursaries helped prevent the spread of HIV/Aids, stopped unwanted pregnancies, and ensured young women did not have to apply for social grants.
Mazibuko told Eyewitness News that virginity testing has existed in Zulu culture for many decades and was thus acceptable.
As part of its submission to the Social Development Department in 2004, the SAHRC recommended that virginity testing be re-evaluated and brought within the parameters of the Constitution, which protects the right to privacy.