A few days ago, social media was awash with comments from people who expressed their disappointment on claims that the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), discontinues beneficiaries of their scholarship program when they get pregnant.
FAWE Rwanda Chapter, is a non-profit organisation that provides educational opportunities to many deserving girls as well as provides scholarships to many vulnerable girls. Founded in 1997, FAWE Rwanda is one of the 34 chapters of FAWE Africa
Many Rwandans expressed their discontent after a local media website published a story about one of the mentors who warned the beneficiaries of their scholarship program that pregnancy would lead to discontinuity.
FAWE Rwanda has since come out to explain that the article led to a misrepresentation of its core values.
“FAWE Rwanda under the comprehensive scholarship program has supported teenage mothers to complete their education after giving birth.
Girls, who are FAWE’s special focus, are also emotionally supported by mentors who closely interact with them regularly in addition to their peer mentors.
FAWE Rwanda therefore encourages all girls to make informed decisions including avoiding risky situations that may hinder their full education attainment.
It is in this regard that FAWE Rwanda wishes to inform the general public that under no circumstances has it ever punished or stopped any girl who gets pregnant while in school. Instead, those girls receive guidance until they are able to return to school whether with or without FAWE Rwanda funding,” read the statement in part.
A section of Rwandans have however still not been content with a clause in the commitment letter that stated that: “In case of pregnancy or marriage before completion of studies, the scholarship package will be discontinued as these situations may affect academic performance.”
Rwandan feminist Olive Uwamariya tweeted; “No girl in #Rwanda should be denied the right to complete her education because she became pregnant. You are contributing to the discrimination and victimisation of young women who become pregnant, whether planned or not.”
No girl in #Rwanda should be denied the right to complete her education because she became pregnant.
You are contributing to the discrimination and victimisation of young women who become pregnant, whether planned or not.
SHAME ON YOU @FAWERwanda!
— Ohlive♀️ (@uwaolive) February 4, 2019
Chantal Umuhoza also tweeted: “Article 8 of agreement signed btn @FAWERwanda and girls supported says funding will be removed if they get pregnant or get married. An NGO supporting girls education is punishing girls for pregnancy and denies them right to bodily autonomy. Highly problematic @diakhoumbag2015”
Article 8 of agreement signed btn @FAWERwanda and girls supported says funding will be removed if they get pregnant or get married. An NGO supporting girls education is punishing girls for pregnancy and denies them right to bodily autonomy. Highly problematic @diakhoumbag2015 pic.twitter.com/WjmGunaXok
— chantal umuhoza (@chante_MKS) February 5, 2019
Kathy Kantengwa, the national coordinator of FAWE, Rwanda chapter program took to twitter to explain that the word “discontinued” in their context meant “suspended “ or “deferred”.
“We can reword in future to clarify the meaning. For the record, scholarships suspended due to poor performance not pregnancy itself.”
Umuhoza however asserts that the clause shouldn’t have been used at all.
“I strongly don’t support scare tactics to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The fact that you are threatening a girl, it means you want to blame only the girl for unwanted pregnancy and ignore other issues that lead to that,” she told Sunday Times.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, as of 2017, 17,444 teenagers had unwanted pregnancies across the country and many eventually dropped out of school or suspended their education for a period of time.
Reports show part of the causes of unwanted pregnancies are linked to vulnerability and poverty; lack of information on reproductive health; poor follow up by parents and school leaders or family conflicts.
Part of FAWE Rwanda’s mandate is to carry out mentorship programs and seek solutions to reduce the percentage of school dropouts, drug abuse, early pregnancies among other issues that girls face in Rwanda.
Kantengwa clarified that Rwandans need to separate programmatic considerations from the actual management of the occurrence of an unwanted pregnancy.
“The program has to fulfill its mandate while the pregnant girl receives other kinds of support (psychologically for example to face stigma...) through mentorship to prepare her for re-entry.
And this is why FAWE encourages girls to exercise their freedoms wisely and responsibly to avoid any preventable circumstances that may cause the disruption of the scholarship by using all measures to ensure the highest achievement for the girls FAWE supports,” she said.
Beneficiaries speak out
Sunday Timesspoke to some of the girls who have benefited from MasterCard Foundation programme scholarship that is implemented by FAWE through its guidelines.
According Kantengwa, over 15 girls have benefited from the programme and become pregnant during the course.
Dalia is an orphan who earned her MasterCard Foundation scholarship in senior four and excelled throughout her high school.
In senior six, however, she got pregnant and luckily for her, her pregnancy did not affect her at all. She gave birth after completing secondary school.
“I was mentored and even though I became pregnant I was capable of continuing school and completed school and passed. My only hindrance is that I joined college a few weeks after my colleagues.
It is quite difficult to have a baby and study at the same time. Nevertheless, if one gets pregnant she should continue with her studies and focus on her future,” she said.
She is currently pursuing a degree in Biotechnology at University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology.
Jackline, another beneficiary also earned her scholarship in 2015 when she was in senior four. She soon became pregnant and decided to stay home and nurse her baby for two years.
“I had no hope of ever going back to school until FAWE followed me up and encouraged me to go back to school. I advise girls to concentrate on their studies as unwanted pregnancies affects their studies,” she said.
She is currently in senior six.