Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Virgin politics in Uganda

Maggie says:
This is absolutely outrageous. New legislation in Uganda would provide girls with full scholarships for college on one condition: that they're virgins. In order to have their tuition paid for by the Ugandan government, prospective girls would submit to a gynecological exam to "prove" their virginity and therefore advance their education.

The sponsor of this $#%&*, Sulaiman Madada, says that this approach is forward-thinking and progressive for two reasons: 1) boys aren't included in the program, meaning this is a pro-female educational initiative, and 2) the government is creatively tackling the massive problem of HIV infection among Ugandans.

To respond to both points:
1) To promote female education, promote it. Don't tie it to virginity and pretend that the reason boys aren't in this program is because you really want more girls in college. Nope - the real focus here is keeping Ugandan girls "chaste" for Ugandan boys, who are clearly not expected to abstain from much of anything. And what happens to the smart, ambitious girls who are not virgins after high school? Why are they any less worthy of college than someone else?
2) To tackle the problem of HIV and AIDS, tackle it. We all know that safe sex is a better way to do that abstinence-only programming, but if that were the approach then girls would be "allowed" to have sex, right? Uganda can't have girls having smart sex with condoms, so instead they're tying their "have sex and die" approach with a big college tuition ribbon around it and pretending it's about education.

I see this initiative as further proof that globally we are seeing wrong-headed approaches to policies that affect both men and women, yet are geared toward females for reasons that have very much to do with stereotypes of chastity and very little to do with the real world.

So how about it, Ugandan girls: Remain a virgin and go to college for free! (Just don't be expected to be treated on par with men, or for that matter, whole human beings.)