A regional health minister in South Africa is facing sharp criticism, after she called on schoolgirls to “open the books and put their legs together”.
Vuvi Ramathupa made the statement during a visit to a middle school, in the context of encouraging abolition of sex at an early age and reducing pregnancy rates among teenage girls.
Social media users criticized the statement, and questioned the reasons why it was directed only to girls.
Ramuthupa defended her statement, saying it was directed at boys as well.
The Minister of Health of Limpopo Province was visiting Gniwan Preparatory School, in Sigakaping town, on Wednesday, which coincided with the beginning of the new academic year.
Addressing the students, Ramuthuba said, “To the little girl I say: Open your books, cross your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Thank you very much.”
The minister added that older men tempt girls with expensive luxuries, such as smartphones.
Her statements sparked a campaign of criticism after a video of her speech was spread on social media.
One user of one of the platforms commented, “This is an inappropriate way of talking to and accepting of abuse and sex with boys.”
Opposition politician Siviwe Guarubi described the regional minister’s comments as “extremely problematic”.
“This was an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with the students about giving consent (for sex)…Instead, you blame the victim and put undue pressure on the girls,” she tweeted.
The minister told the South African news site Times Live that her speech was “taken out of context” and that it was directed at boys as well.
“I told the boys to focus on their studies and not sleep with the girls,” she said.
She added that her constituents in Limpopo “appreciate the message”, and that “they were saying they were afraid to talk about these things, and they thanked me for calling things by their name.”
South African government statistics indicate that about 33,400 girls under the age of 17 gave birth in 2020.
The charity Save the Children says the lack of comprehensive sexuality education, as well as the lack of basic and adequate health services, are major factors contributing to teenage pregnancy in South Africa.