January 22, 2022

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South African minister slammed for telling girls to ‘open books and close legs’ in bid to reduce teen pregnancy

A South African politician is being criticized over “deeply problematic” remarks she made to a group of girls in a secondary school on Wednesday.

Phophi Ramathubal stopped by a school in the township of Sekgakgapeng to speak with students on the first day of the academic year.

Ramathubal — a physician who also serves as the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) of health for the northern South African province of Limpopo — had some controversial words for the young female students, in a bid to encourage abstinence and reduce teen pregnancy.

Phophi Ramathuba

Phophi Ramathuba

Phophi Ramathuba (LIMPOPO PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT/)

“To the girl child I say: Open your books, and close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Thank you very much,” she said, before asking the girls to repeat the statement after her.

A video of the encounter was shared on social media and quickly went viral, according to the South African news site Eyewitness News.

Ramathubal also suggested that “some young people have contracted HIV/AIDS because they are dealing with older people,” she said.

“They want blessers (or sugar daddies),” she said, adding that “the smartphone they bought you comes with a disease.”

She also called for the ban of “these Brazilian hair extensions in our schools,” local radio Jacaranda FM reported.

Reaction to Ramathubal’s words outraged many in the local community, promptings call for an apology.

Phinah Kodisang, the CEO for the Soul City Institute for Social Justice (SCI), slammed her comments as “deeply problematic” advice.

“For them to then shift that responsibility and put it on the young women is something that we are not going to take lightly. I think the MEC must issue an apology,” Kodisang said.

SCI, a Johannesburg-based organization that fights to empower girls and young women, is now demanding Ramathubal issue a public apology.

“MECs, ministers don’t see themselves as being accountable for what is happening and those comments are a clear indication of how they don’t see themselves as people who should be held accountable on what is the right way of dealing with teenage pregnancy, statutory rape and gender-based violence,” Kodisang said, according to Eyewitness News. “Because this is a clear indication that they don’t know what they need to do and how to handle it.”

Siviwe Gwarube, deputy chief whip of the opposition in the South African Parliament, took to Twitter to express her outrage.

“This kind of narrative to young children is deeply problematic,” she wrote.

“[It] shifts responsibility to girl children to shoulder the burden of safe sex practices & rape culture,” she added. “It’s rubbish.”

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