This week, in Sierra Leone, all but “visibly pregnant girls” are welcome to return to school after nine months of the Ebola crisis. The government has banned these girls from attending school, due to the “negative impacts they will have on innocent girls”. Innocent girls. Think about that for a second. Juxtaposing pregnant and non-pregnant girls places value on one group and not the other. More specifically, in this case, pregnant equals not-innocent…as in guilty. But what are they guilty of exactly? Wanting pleasure? Having sex? Being raped? Becoming pregnant? Staying pregnant? Wanting to continue to learn while pregnant? What is it? It is time for adults to come to terms with the sexual health, sexual identities and sexual rights of youth. In particular, it is time for adults to stop punishing young women for their sexuality, and definitely for their own pregnancies. After all, they did not become pregnant on their own. When fathers are allowed to learn and mothers are pushed out of school, children and families suffer. Sierra Leone might be far away but similar societal judgment of pregnant youth is just as prevalent right here in our back yard, with grave consequences.
While in the United States it is illegal to exclude people from school on the basis of sex, gender, and pregnancy status under Title IX, it doesn’t mean that pregnant students are welcomed at school. Often students do not know their rights under Title IX. In fact, most people don’t even know what Title IX is. If they do, it is only related to gender equity in sports, or sexual harassment in college. Frankly, many public school district administrators don’t know either.