South African Minister Slammed for Asking Girl Students to 'Open Books, Close Legs'

South African Minister Slammed for Asking Girl Students to ‘Open Books, Close Legs’

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South African minister Phophi Ramathuba has received widespread backlash for telling schoolgirls to “open your books, close your legs”. In a video that has gone viral on social media and is drawing ire in equal measure, she can be heard saying, “…to the girl child, open your books, close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. She can be heard repeating the message several times, each time pointing the mic to the audience in order for them to chant it back to her. “Thank you very much,” she says at the end of the 30-second clip. As per a BBC report, the health minister’s remarks were made when she visited the Gwanane secondary school in the Sekgakgapeng township. Ramathuba was there as part of initiatives to reduce teenage pregnancy rates and encourage abstinence.

Women For Change, a nonprofit organisation in South Africa aiming to create awareness about gender based violence, shared the clip on Twitter, writing, “Doctor Phophi Ramathuba who’s also a MEC visited a school in Limpopo this morning telling the girls to close their legs and open their books. ARE YOU SERIOUS? Is this sex education by our Goverment? Victim Blaming and pushing the narrative? This is disgusting.”

What invited outrage was not just the fact that her message was directed exclusively towards girls, but also that it is an entirely regressive notion to push on impressionable teenagers and children instead of scientific sexual education which could effectively curb teenage pregnancy rates. Moreover, Ramathuba’s message seemed to put the onus of abstinence- a concept that is controversial in itself- exclusively on girls. The same was pointed out by many Twitter users.

However, many were in favour of her views and claimed that in her full speech, she had addressed boys as well. As per The Independent report, the minister stated the same. “I told the boys to focus on their education and not sleep with girls,” she claimed, as quoted by The Independent. She also added that the girls had later thanked her for “calling a spade a spade”.

Opposition leader Siviwe Gwarube took to Twitter to slam Ramathuba’s speech. She wrote, “I truly hate it here. Government leaders perpetuating deeply patriarchal notions that have been proven to be damaging and have shielded boy children and men from accountability. This kinda thinking has allowed rape culture to thrive. It’s all bloody depressing… (sic).”

She also termed the narrative as “deeply problematic” and said that it “Shifts responsibility to girl children to shoulder the burden of safe sex practices & rape culture.”

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