Denying education to schoolgirls who get pregnant is barbaric and backward

Saturday June 24 2017

 

By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
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The moralists are back among us, and this time they are, once again, riding the usual high horse of virginity and the imperative for maidens to stay pure and chaste until they are allowed to go out and eat the forbidden fruit.

The girl child is told that to engage in sex before the knot is tied is sinful, and that if she is in school and is lecherous enough to be tempted by the snake, her school career is finished. Mothers cannot be learners, she is told.

"Emotional positions"

But of course mothers can be learners, she could answer; mothers have been learners since forever, as her mother and her grandmother can attest.

What makes a young woman lose her ability to learn simply because she is “in the family way,” to employ a silly old expression?

But that is what Tanzanian legislators and members of civil society are grappling with, some of them taking such emotional positions as will brook no attempt to reason with them.

Such girls as “allow themselves” to engage in sex while still in school are “immoral” and should be sent down immediately they are discovered to have done the terrible act.

Problem is, no one has a litmus test to ascertain whether the young woman has “done it,” till she begins to show the wrong bulges in the wrong places.

Aha! You’ve done it and it shows, so out you go! Thing is, not all who “do it” end up bulging, so they don’t get caught. These are the “smart” ones.

A civil society body dedicated to education rights has launched a five-year campaign to raise awareness among the people of this extremely conservative country, and all I can see is a hard road ahead for them, and us.

To suggest that a pregnant schoolgirl should go back to school after childbirth sounds to some of our people like telling all the schoolgirls that it’s okay to just sleep with whoever comes along.

But we know that this is not the case. Some youngsters will be more sexually active than others as they go through a period of extreme hormonal changes, putting them in an endangered cluster of scholars unless they have been tutored in ways of being “smart.”

"Societal norms"

Those who get “smart” can then go on and entertain a battalion without the slightest worry over pregnancy, and their kin and friends will hold them up as if they were Mother Theresa. It is the innocent ones, the ones who do not know how to cheat the system, who get caught.

To state that the girl child has been disadvantaged in our societies would be a culpable understatement.
Our family arrangements are rigged against her, even her mother takes position among her enemies. Societal norms, assigned roles and socialising agents militate against her.

Apart from her schoolwork, she must do home chores while her brothers learn or play; the school environment is unfriendly and often humiliating, especially as her femininity wreaks havoc on her self-esteem without supportive interventions.

She is also the target of all sorts of lecherous advances by the men around her, some of them people in a fiduciary relationship to her, such as her teachers.

Sometimes, as protection from these unwanted attentions, she will accept the seemingly selfless shelter of a “caring cousin,” who turns out be the one that does the ultimate damage after all.

It is unfair to punish the girl alone, as that is tantamount to punishing the victim. The responsible man has proved elusive, one because he does not bulge, two because he has a whole lot of tricks to help him dance out of any such situation, and, three, the girl is always the daughter of Eve, guilty from Creation. She is left alone holding the…tummy.

We should never exacerbate an already bad situation. Enrolment in school has improved considerably, and both sexes are well represented. However, females drop off at higher levels of education. We should not make it worse than it is.

That is why I think President John Pombe Magufuli should mitigate the statement he made this past week in which he castigated the poor girls whose fault it is not that they got into what they got into. Magufuli should listen to his vice-president and health minister, both of them women who should know better about the matter.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]