South Africa minister who told schoolgirls to ‘open your books and close your legs’ under fire

Critics attack minister for ‘patriarchal’ remarks that shift the onus of protection on victims

Arpan Rai
Friday 14 January 2022 09:51
<p>South African minister Phophi Ramathuba was visiting the Gwanane secondary school in Sekgakgapeng </p>

South African minister Phophi Ramathuba was visiting the Gwanane secondary school in Sekgakgapeng

A South African minister has come under fire on social media for telling schoolgirls to “open your books and close your legs”.

“To the girl child: Open your books, and close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Thank you very much,” minister Phophi Ramathuba can be heard telling students in clips of the video shared widely on social media.

The students can be heard repeating the minister’s words in the video.

The health minister made the remarks on Wednesday during a visit to the Gwanane secondary school in the Sekgakgapeng township aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates and encouraging abstinence, reported the BBC.

Ms Ramathuba said girls were being lured by older men into using luxuries like expensive wigs and smartphones, said a report by South African news site Times LIVE.

“Some young people have contracted HIV/Aids because they are with older people, they want blessers. The smartphone and Brazilian hair they bought you doesn’t come for free, it comes with a disease,” the minister said, seeking a ban on Brazilian hair extensions.

The remarks have sparked outrage on social media as many questioned why the “victim blaming” message was directed at girls.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS? Is this sex education by our Government? Victim Blaming and pushing the narrative? This is disgusting,” said Women for Change, a gender-based violence NGO in South Africa.

The minister said her message was directed to boys as well, according to the report.

“I told the boys to focus on their education and not sleep with girls,” the minister claimed.

The girls later thanked her for calling a spade a spade, she added.

Opposition leader Siviwe Gwarube, however, said the narrative pushed by the health minister was “deeply problematic”.

“Shifts responsibility to girl children to shoulder the burden of safe sex practices & rape culture. It’s rubbish,” she said in a tweet, sharing the incident.

Nearly 33,400 girls under the age of 17 in South Africa gave birth in 2020, according to government data published in November that year.

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