The Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa has ruled that university bursaries offered to proven female virgins were unlawful and should be scrapped.
The bursary scheme was introduced by the Uthukela municipality in KwaZulu-Natal province as part of efforts to reduce the prevalence of HIV/Aids and child pregnancies.
When the scheme was unveiled earlier this year, the mayor of Uthukela, Dudu Mazibuko said the virginity tests would not be carried out by the municipality or universities.
Instead, schoolgirls who had already undergone the tests as part of an annual ceremony hosted by the Zulu king would qualify for the bursaries.
But the gender commission ruled that a bursary “contingent on a female student’s virginity is fundamentally discriminatory”.
In a ruling made after some rights groups had protested the initiative, the commission said “It goes against the ethos of the constitutional provisions in relation to dignity, equality and discrimination,” adding that “Virginity is not intrinsic to the task of studying,”
The Uthukela municipality, which is in a socially conservative part of South Africa, has not yet commented.
The commission has given it 60 days to respond to its recommendation that the scheme should be closed.
An estimated 6.3 million people in South Africa are HIV-positive, with more than one in 10 people living with the virus. Teenage pregnancy is also on the rise in South Africa.