Magufuli vows to make it difficult for Tanzanian teen mothers to escape poverty

The President of Tanzania has obviously never met a development professional, or if he has, he certainly hasn’t listened to anything they had to say. It would seem that the same also goes for gender experts, healthcare providers, educators, or economic advisers. I know this because he clearly doesn’t know the first thing about how crucial education for young girls is to economic growth, speak much less of the benefits of formal education to the girls themselves.

I don’t know much about Tanzania — I will only be visiting the country for the first time in August — but going by its President’s reasoning I very strongly suspect that religio-colonial ideas around the rights of young girls to bodily autonomy, which essentially assert that young girls don’t have a right to bodily autonomy, are prevalent in the country. Cultures that devalue women and girls inevitably predispose young girls to risky sexual behaviour and increase the chances that they will experience sexual violence and violations as minors, which essentially guarantees the prevalence of teen pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy exponentially increases the likelihood that girls will either become poor or never escape poverty. Poverty increases the likelihood of exposure to the factors that predispose girls to teen pregnancy, such as early sexualisation, sexual exploitation, transactional relationships, survival sex work, inadequate (or non-existent) sex education, etc. It’s a vicious, endless cycle, and rather unsurprisingly, the people who are its victims are the same people who Magufuli chooses to scapegoat.

Here we have a country with statistics like this on condom use and the prevalence of contraception, and like this on poverty, and its President says young girls who have become mothers (an already highly vulnerable population according to health, economic and social indices) should not be allowed access to formal education. Never mind that formal education for adolescent girls is one of the key indicators for escaping poverty, improved maternal and child health, social progress, and economic growth. Can someone please slap this man with a UN Women report?! Or something. Anything. I’ll accept even a shoe being thrown at his head. Preferably with a stiletto heel. Thanks muchly.

John Magufuli seems convinced that teen pregnancy is contagious, and that teen mothers — rather than pedophiles — are responsible for six year old (Standard One) girls being involved in sexual activity. (He also seems to believe that six year old girls are generally capable of getting pregnant, but I have a headache now and can no longer further dissect his astounding assertions.) His solution? Let them eat cake…er, I mean, go and learn to sew, or attend this skills-acquisition program with an applicants section that hasn’t been updated since 2015, or whatever. Just, for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t put poor John in the position of having to lead a country with school premises that welcome girls whose uteruses have hosted and expelled unexpected occupants.

Formal education is not only the right of every member of society (even young girls who are or have been sexually active; I know, shocking!), it is also a literal necessity for social progress. Young girls are already disadvantaged by being young in a continent with an exploding youth population and disheartening youth unemployment rates, and anatomically female in a culture where people think penises are inherently more valuable than vaginas for no intelligible reason. The added responsibility of motherhood before adulthood is an extra, significant obstacle in an already arduous journey towards self-sustenance and autonomy. To attempt to punish young mothers by stripping them of their only means of accessing the formal economy is not just retrogressive, misogynistic and discriminatory, it’s also utterly idiotic.

But I guess one of the perks of having a penis that is already quite shrivelled with age is the opportunity to be an utter idiot, in public, as President, with no consequences, in 2017.