Friday, October 07, 2005

Chastity scholarships in Uganda

A depressing but important read (free but registration required):
"Virginity Becomes a Commodity In Uganda's War Against AIDS" by Emily Wax

Good for WaPo for putting it on their front-page. Some excerpts:

"Several months ago, a Ugandan legislator proposed offering "chastity scholarships" in this poor farming district 150 miles southeast of the capital, Kampala. His hope was that the program, in which proven virgins can attend college at no cost, would encourage girls to resist entreaties from older men offering them money and security in exchange for sex.
[...]
"For vulnerable girls and young women in many parts of Africa -- including those orphaned by AIDS -- sex has long been a way out of grinding poverty, overcrowded homes and an uncertain future .

""Here we say sex is a poor girl's food," said Anatolius, 43.

"Now, however, the sexual behavior of African girls has become a new focus in the war on AIDS. In Uganda, South Africa and other countries, governments are promoting female sexual abstinence before or outside marriage as a primary means of combating the disease, which has ravaged the continent.

"Janet Museveni, wife of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, recently organized an abstinence march and attempted to conduct a "virgin census" on the campus of the country's main university.

""Saving yourself for marriage is the right thing to do," read government billboards. "Beware of Sugar Daddies!" warn posters in schools. They depict a bulky man giving flowers and sweets to a frail girl through the tinted window of a Mercedes-Benz.
[...]
"But some critics, including the group Human Rights Watch, assert that the push for abstinence has been motivated by politics, not purity. They charge that Museveni, once a leader in promoting condom use, has shifted to please the Bush administration, which champions abstinence and monogamy to prevent AIDS. Uganda receives $8 million from the United States each year to promote abstinence programs for youth.

"Critics also argue that testing for virginity is traumatizing and could stigmatize girls who have been raped. Human rights groups have condemned the practice in some Islamic countries, where unmarried women may be forcibly tested as a form of moral policing. There is no equivalent test for boys or men.

"Museveni, in a recent meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters in Washington, said that abstinence was preferable for young people and that condoms were more appropriate for "high-risk" groups such as prostitutes. But many health experts say that because African men often have multiple sex partners, condom use is critical to reducing AIDS.

"The virgin scholarship plan has sparked debate within Uganda, too. Some people have raised concerns that virginity tests may be inaccurate and that girls who fail may be ostracized. There are also competing plans by local leaders to buy sewing machines so young girls can earn a living."

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