Jan. 27, 2020 (GIN) –The World Bank’s executive board cancelled expected action on a $500 million loan to Tunisia where teenage girls can be expelled from school because they are pregnant.
The Bank had been under pressure from rights activists and held a last-minute emergency meeting this week with Tanzanian and international human rights organizations.
The activists demanded that the loan be frozen until the country passes a law guaranteeing the rights of pregnant girls to attend regular secondary school and ending mandatory pregnancy tests.
According to a World Bank document, about 5,500 girls were not able to continue their secondary education due to adolescent pregnancy and young motherhood in 2017.
Around a quarter of Tanzanian girls between 15 and 19 years of age are mothers or pregnant. The percentage of teenage girls who have given birth or who were pregnant increased to 27% in 2016.
The activists objected to recent statements by President John Magufuli, such as when he said that “Girls who give birth should not be allowed to return to school” because “after getting pregnant you’re done.”
“With all the work we have done to emancipate Africa’s girl-child from the shackles of discrimination and violation, a sitting president turns around to “re-victimize” and treat their situation like a terrible infectious disease which other girls must be protected from,” said Rwandan feminist Dinah Musindarwezo of the Kenya-based African Women’s Development and Communication Network, or ‘Femnet’.
A World Bank spokesman said that a reworked loan program should ensure that girls and boys who drop out, including pregnant girls, would have alternate education options for themselves.
Concerned Citizens of Tanzanian Civil Society in their letter to the Bank board seen by the Financial Times, the activists had warned that “awarding $500 million at this time would be a slap in the face of girls and women who are treated in this way, and will be taken as a full-throated endorsement of this violently misogynist regime.”
“When girls are denied the opportunity to education, it limits their chances to other opportunities including decent employment, leadership and information. Girls who drop out of school are also likely to end up in child marriages,” they wrote.
Initially, the loan was recommended for approval by Bella Bird, the World Bank’s Country Director for Tanzania, Burundi, Malawi and Somalia. Bird is expected to step down on Friday, according to a source at the bank.