On May 28 2008, a young Cape Verdean female student, attending the 11th grade at the Januario Leite Secondary School, District of Paul (Santo Antao Island), was asked to cancel her enrolment after delivering a baby. Distraught by the bitter taste of women discrimination in Cape Verdean schools, Ana Rodrigues wrote a letter to the Minister of Education, requesting her right to remain at school and avoid an unwanted interruption in this nearly finishing school year. In face of this event, and being aware of the existence of similar cases, we demand a special framework for pregnant girls at school, emphasising that our intention is not to encourage girl pregnancy, but rather combat school drop-outs and discrimination implied in the above mentioned suspension measure. Subscribe this petition in favour of Ana Rodrigues and leave your opinion on this suspension measure. Do you agree that pregnant women should be suspend from school?
The above excerpt is from a petition against the school's decision, whose link has been circulating around the Cape Verdean blogosphere. So far, the online petition organized by the Citizenship Movement and Cape Verdean Blogs has already been signed by over 220 netizens and support is growing fast. Many of the island's bloggers have been mobilized and they are posting about the issue, some of them generating a good debate about human rights, sex education and society's hypocrisy. Below is a roundup of the strong reactions, starting with Eurídice Monteiro [pt], the first blogger to call for action:
Fiquei furiosa ao saber da situação da jovem Ana, que, apesar de estar a enfrentar dificuldades económicas acrescidas, é uma das melhores alunas da sua escola, com uma média acima dos 17 valores. Ainda a poucos dias, na Feira do Livro de Lisboa, durante a apresentação da Revista Direito e Cidadania, uma distinta senhora de nome Ernestina Santos contestava a discriminação das jovens e adolescentes grávidas nas escolas cabo-verdianas, como que adivinhando o caso da Ana. Como tenho uma preocupação particular com a feminização do abandono escolar, principalmente no ensino básico e secundário, e com a elevada taxa de gravidez precoce, que condena as jovens e as adolescentes a abandonarem os estabelecimentos de ensino, muitas vezes definitivamente, não podia ficar calada perante este caso.
I was furious to learn of Ana's situation, the girl who, despite facing increased economic difficulties, is one of the best students of her school with an above average mark for 17 subjects. A few days ago at the Book Fair in Lisbon, during the launch of the Law and Citizenship Magazine, a distinguished lady called Mrs Ernestina Santos contested the discrimination against pregnant youngsters and teenagers in Cape Verdean schools, as if guessing Ana's case. As I have a particular concern with the feminization of the school dropout issue, especially in primary and secondary education, and with the high rate of teen pregnancy, which condemns youngsters and teenagers to leave their schools often for good, I could not keep quiet when faced with this case.
Photo by NineInchNachosIII used under a CC licence.
Many other bloggers heard about the case through the above post, and they were quick to react. João Branco [pt], who has seen his two daughters through motherhood, says that this all happened in a incredibly surreal fashion:
Andamos a brincar? Uma grávida é uma doente infecto-contagiosa neste país? Onde pára o direito constitucional à educação? Ainda para mais parece que a aluna em causa – Ana Rodrigues – escreveu uma carta para à Sra. Ministra da Educação, suplicando pelo direito de continuar os seus estudos, sem uma interrupção indesejada neste ano lectivo preste a findar. Suplicando? Suplicando por um direito? E se fosse ao contrário? O Estado a suplicar aos cidadãos que paguem os seus impostos, por exemplo. Este caso é um escândalo, fere o direito à educação, pedra basilar do desenvolvimento de Cabo Verde desde sempre. Ainda mais preocupante quando este é um caso tornado público, dando-nos a sensação que muitos mais haverá, similares a este, um pouco por todos os estabelecimentos de ensino.
Is this a joke? Is a pregnant woman in this country an infectious and contagious person? Where is the constitutional right to education? It is even worse because the student concerned – Ana Rodrigues – wrote a letter to Ms Minister of Education, begging for the right to continue her studies without an unwanted interruption in this nearly complete school year. Begging? Begging for a right? And what if it was the other way around? The State begging the citizens to pay their taxes, for example. This is a scandal, this violates the right to education, the cornerstone of the Cape Verdean development. It is even more worrying when this is just one case made public, giving us the feeling that there may be many more cases, similar to this, happening in all educational establishments.
However, a commentator on the above post disagrees. Kuskas [pt] says that her sister was expelled from school when she got pregnant and missed the term, but she was better prepared to go back to her studies a year later, with the help of her family. She stresses that parents are responsible for ensuring that children do not get pregnant in the first place:
João, gravidez não é doença e nem deve ser, mas a adolescente gravida que frenquenta as aulas é prejudicada em relação aos colegas de muitas formas: as faltas são injustificadas (pelo que sei PARTO não é justificação para faltas, pelo menos nas escolas secundárias), nas aulas de educação fisica ela é tratada como as outras alunas e ela não tem direito a licença maternidade. SE as nossas escolas e as FAMILIAS estivessem PREPARADAS para lidar com essas situações, que eu continuo a dizer NÃO È e NÂO DEVE ser NORMAL, não haveria problemas nenhuns.
João, pregnancy is not a disease and it should not be, but the pregnant teenager who goes to school is in jeopardy in relation to her colleagues in many ways: the missed days are unjustified (and we know childbirth is no justification for missing [lessons], at least not in secondary schools), she is treated like other students in the physical education classes and she is not entitled to maternity leave. IF our schools and families were PREPARED to deal with these situations, I still say they ARE NOT and this MUST NOT be NORMAL, there would be no problems.
Abstract painting by Carina used under a CC licence.
Not exactly linked to the comment above, Eileen Barbosa [pt] criticizes this very mentality towards young mothers, and people who think they are less capable of completing their studies:
Já ouvi vozes dizerem qualquer coisa como “Unh, não me parece que fique bem ter grávidas a conviver com outros alunos…” Porquê, pergunto? Dá um mau exemplo? Serei inocente quando penso que pode até funcionar do outro jeito: a grávida sente-se mal disposta, a grávida não pode participar nos jogos violentos; quando o bebé nascer, virá com umas olheiras enormes por estar a perder sono… e as despesas… é melhor adiar…
Uma futura mãe precisa, mais do que ninguém, de meios para ganhar a vida e sustentar a cria. Negar-lhe as ferramentas para isso parece-me uma maldade injustificável.
I have heard voices saying something like “Unh, I do not think it looks good that pregnant girls mingle with other students…” Why, I wonder? Can you give me a bad example? Am I being naive when I think it could actually be the other way around: [people saying] the pregnant girl feels unwell, the pregnant girl can not participate in violent games; when the baby is born, she will come with bags under her eyes for not getting enough sleep… and the expenses… it is better to put it off…
A future mother needs, more than anyone else, the means to earn a living and support her offspring. Denying her the tools to do so seems to me an unjustifiable wicked thing.
On the grounds of childbirth
More than just granting that Ana Rodrigues is given the opportunity to resume her studies, bloggers want an investigation into the school headmistress’ decision to force the girl to give up school, on the grounds of “childbirth”. The notice, signed by headmistress Alda Maria Martins Lima, reads as follows: “The Directorate of Januario Leite Secondary School hereby gives notice to teachers and students of the 11C class of the Economic and Social Course that the student Ana Maria Rodrigues is suspended from classes on the grounds of childbirth. She must apply herself for the cancellation of her matriculation for this school year”.
Virgílio Brandão [pt] publishes excerpts of the Constitution which shows that not only every citizen has the right to education, but also that “The agents of the state and other public entities are, by law, criminally and disciplinarily responsible for actions or omissions that lead to violation of rights, freedoms and guarantees.” On another long and well thought of post, he reminds readers that this is not the first time [pt] that a young girl has been driven to drop out of school after getting pregnant. In fact, if not normal, this seems to happen quite often in Cape Verde and that it is a fact society and government need to better acknowledge and address:
O extraordinário é que as Instituições que deveriam proteger a infância, a juventude e os direitos humanos em geral não fazem (não fizeram, que eu tenha conhecimento) nada de prático para evitar este e outros males. Quantas Anas existem e já existiram em Cabo Verde? O que aconteceu com elas, depois de decisões como esta? A estatística não deve servir somente a política e a economia, não…
The amazing point is that the institutions that should protect the children, youth and [advocate] human rights in general don't do (they haven't done, as far as I know) anything practical to prevent this and other evils. How many Anas are there and have already been in Cape Verde? What has happened to them, after decisions like this? Statistics should serve not only politics and economy…
Photo by O Pirata used under a CC licence.
Furnas [pt] carries on the same idea to say that it is high time society debated these issues in an open manner:
Se os caboverdianos querem discutir a questão da gravidez na adolescência que o façam de forma séria, madura, ponderada e científica, não na perspectiva moralista e, muito menos de valores pessoais discutíveis e de origem e finalidade duvidosas! Acho que por uma questão de cidadania, que nos toca a todos, deveríamos estudar a possibilidade de entrar com um processo-crime no tribunal contra o estado de Cabo Verde! Está mais do que na hora de começarmos a quebrar o silêncio…
If Cape Verdeans want to discuss the issue of teenage pregnancy they should do so in a serious, mature, thoughtful and scientific way, not with the moralist view only, and even less with debatable personal values of dubious origin/means! I think that as it is a matter of citizenship, which concerns us all, we should consider the possibility of joining with the criminal proceedings in a court against the state of Cape Verde! It is high time we began to break the silence…
Paulino Dias [pt] believes that talking about it is not as easy when people just close their eyes to the problem.
O problema é mais profundo, minha amiga. Tem a ver com a (re)avaliação da legalidade e da “humanidade” da medida de afastamento das alunas grávidas das escolas, tem a ver com a desconstrução das famílias e dos seus valores que vimos assistindo diariamente, tem a ver com um certo “lavar de mãos” dos pais no que diz respeito à educação sexual dos filhos (sim senhor, isso não é assunto apenas do Ministério da Educação ou das Delegacias de Saúde!), tem a ver com a passividade de todos nós que tranquilamente vamos assistindo a esses “pequenos” dramas e assobiamos para o lado com a consciência limpa de quem pagou já os seus impostos.
The problem is deeper, my friend. It has to do with the (re) assessment of legality and “humanity” of the schools’ removal order for pregnant students, it is about the deconstruction of families and their values that we have watched daily, it is about a certain “washing of hands” of parents regarding sex education of children (yes sir, this matter does not only concern the Ministry of Education or the Health Authorities!), it has to do with the passivity of all of us who quietly watch these “small” dramas and turn our backs with the clear conscience of those who have already paid their taxes.
Photo by elisnice used under a CC licence.
Coming back to Virgílio Brandão [pt], this time on a comment on a Cafe Margoso post, he shares this anecdote about one of his past colleagues at Law School who had three kids during the university course:
Um dia, perguntei-lhe porque é que ela estava quase sempre grávida na altura dos exames e ela respondeu-me, com um extraordinário sentido de humor:
- Virgílio, fico mais inteligente quando estou grávida.
One day, I asked her why she was almost always pregnant when the examinations were up, to which she answered me, with an extraordinary sense of humour:
– Virgílio, I get more clever when I am pregnant.