We had our friend Father John staying with us for a few days this week. He wrote his Masters thesis on the early exit of the girl child from school so of course I asked him about President Magufuli’s pregnant schoolgirl ban. Our friend, and Father John’s BFF, Father Gilbert was also there. Neither of them thought it was a good policy, mainly because it is a one-size fits all approach, with little interest in the circumstances, or the culpability of the guy.
They spoke of how parents will pay off a man who has got their daughter pregnant so that he is not shamed, though meanwhile the girl may still be evicted from school, or she may be forced to get an abortion. Since they are both pastors in the Anglican church, I asked them whether the church has a role to play in contributing to this culture of shame, since it is common practice to refuse participating in services and church community to women who are pregnant outside of wedlock, for a period of months. Often they also refuse the child baptism.
Father John’s response to this was that the person must be willing to bring their sins to Jesus, exhibiting some real evidence of repentance. Do they intend to get pregnant outside of marriage again?
This is an approach that focuses on restoration, rather than punitive measures as Magufuli’s policy does, but it still assumes that the girls have set out to sin. I asked them, what about women who are deceived, or abused? The naivety of many girls, even of their own bodily functions, and their economic vulnerability mean they may well be sinned against rather than sinners. In this case, is it not compassion rather than repentance that is required?
We talked this around a bit, because women’s perspectives and versions of what happened are rarely given much attention. While pastors and others rail against pregnancy outside of marriage, they are often quite ignorant of how girls ended up in that situation in the first place, presuming promiscuity rather than abuse or rape, and they do not listen. Neither do women speak. They simply do not have the opportunity to; because of their position in society, it is theirs to listen and to obey.
Father Gilbert saw that the church had an opportunity to be different to society here. He said, many girls do not have the opportunity to explain to their pastor the circumstances under which they became pregnant. Even if the pastor comes to her home, she will not come out to see him, for fear and for shame. He went to see one such girl and he sat for hours at her home and she did not come out. But he was at the door and she could not go anywhere! Eventually she came out, seeing that he did not intend to leave until he had spoken with her. At his invitation she haltingly told him her story, how she had been lied to and deceived, and he was able to treat her gently and invite her back to church. Once there, she was able to avail herself of its full social services. She now has a small business and is an active member of the church. But without his kindness, this would have been unavailable to her, because her shame would have kept her from coming to church – the very people who could help her.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.