In South Africa, a regional health minister is under attack for telling school girls to “open your books and close your legs”.
Minister Phophi Ramathuba made the statement during a visit to a secondary school in a bid to promote abstinence and shrink teenage pregnancy rates.
Netizens criticized the remark and questioned why it was only directed at girls. However, Ms Ramathuba defended the message, saying it was aimed at boys too.
The Limpopo province minister was visiting Gwenane secondary school in the township of Sekgakgapeng on Wednesday to mark the first day of the new academic year when she addressed the girls.
“To the girl child I say: Open your books, and close your legs. Don’t open your legs, open your books. Thank you very much,” she told students.
Further, she said that girls were being lured by older men using luxuries like expensive wigs and smartphones.
The comments triggered widespread criticism after a video of the speech was shared on social media.
“This is not an appropriate way to talk to kids about abuse, sex and consent”, one social media user wrote.
Opposition politician Siviwe Gwarube called the remarks “deeply problematic”.
“This was an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with these learners about consent… Instead you victim blame. Place undue pressure on girls”, she posted on Twitter.
Speaking to South African news site TimesLIVE, Ms Ramathuba said that her statement had been taken out of context, and was directed at boys too.
“I told the boys to focus on their education and not sleep with girls,” she said.
She added that her constituents in Limpopo “appreciated the message”.
“They were even saying that they were afraid to say these things and thanked me for calling a spade a spade ,” she said.
In 2020, almost 33,400 girls under the age of 17 gave birth in South Africa, according to government statistics.
Save the Children says a lack of access to comprehensive sex education as well as affordable and appropriate health services are key factors contributing to teen pregnancies in South Africa.