Thesis Explores Virginity Testing as Women Empowerment

Ms Nokukhanya Biyela graduates with a Master’s degree at the UKZN Spring Graduation ceremonies.
Ms Nokukhanya Biyela graduates with a Master’s degree at the UKZN Spring Graduation ceremonies.

Ms Nokukhanya Biyela’s Master’s thesis in Child Care and Protection explored virginity testing as a tool for women empowerment.

UThukela District Municipality’s Maiden Bursary Scheme (MBS) for girls and/or young women who are virgins motivated Biyela to conduct her research.

The 16 female students awarded the bursary had to remain virgins while in receipt of the bursary. ‘Such an offer suggested the possibility of using the cultural practice of virginity testingof women and girls asa tool for educational empowerment,’ she said.

Twenty-six-year-old Biyela explored this topic for her dissertation as she is passionate about women empowerment. ‘There are divergent views on MBS, with traditionalists’ views in support of it and human rights activists’ and feminists’ views against it,’ she said. Her study also looked at South African legislation related to virginity testing.

‘The South African Constitution protects cultural diversity, and as such, persons belonging to a cultural community may not be denied the rights to enjoy and practice their culture. Pertinently, though, this right may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Right,’ she said.

Formally trained as a social worker, Biyela is currently working at BSN Medical as a Laboratory Assistant. She says she wants to affect the lives of people by ‘promoting social change and empowering society.’ She enjoys working with children and would like to be an academic to pass on knowledge to others,

She thanked her supervisor, Mrs Willene Holness from the School of Law, for her endless support, guidance, expertise and encouragement. ‘The legal aspect of my study became so much more interesting and easily manageable through her guidance,’ she said.

She paid tribute to her family, particularly her mother, Ntwezinhle, and brother, Malusi, ‘for always encouraging me to follow my dream.’

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer 

Photograph: Rogan Ward

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