Open books, close your legs: South African minister tells schoolgirls
A South African minister has courted controversy after advising abstinence to schoolgirls in Mokopane, Limpopo. Provincial health minister Phophi Ramathuba suggested, "To the girl child: Open your books, and close your legs... Don't open your legs, open your books." She made the remarks while visiting a secondary school in Mokopane's Sekgakgapeng township where she was lecturing about abstinence and teenage pregnancies.
Why does this story matter?
- Ramathuba's comments sparked a huge row on social media as critics complained that the minister had singled out girls.
- NGOs claim a lack of sex education and appropriate health treatments, are major contributors to teen pregnancy in South Africa.
- About 33,400 girls under the age of 17 gave birth in South Africa in 2020, according to government data.
What did the minister say?
Ramathuba claimed girls are being enticed by older men to use luxuries such as pricey wigs and smartphones, according to the South African publication TimesLIVE. "Some young people have contracted HIV/AIDS because they are with older people, they want blessers," she said. "The smartphone and Brazilian hair they bought you doesn't come for free, it comes with a disease," she added.
'Victim blaming'; ministers' remarks sparked online outrage
"ARE YOU SERIOUS? Is this sex education by our government? Victim blaming and pushing the narrative? This is disgusting," tweeted Women for Change, a gender-based violence NGO in South Africa. Opposition leader Siviwe Gwarube claimed the minister's narrative was "deeply problematic." "Place undue pressure on girls. Perpetrators have the burden of action," she tweeted. "This is part of the problem."
'Addressed boys, too,' Minister defends remarks
Ramathuba told TimesLIVE that her statement was misinterpreted and it was directed at boys and girls. "I told the boys to focus on their education and not sleep with girls," she said. Ramathuba said that her constituency "liked the message." "They were even saying that they were afraid to say these things and thanked me for calling a spade a spade," she said.
Teenage pregnancies rise during pandemic
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of children born to minor mothers has increased by 60% in Gauteng, according to a report by the rights group Save the Children. Notably, Gauteng is the most populated area in South Africa. Almost 23,000 girls under the age of 18 gave birth between April 2020 and March 2021, the report added.