Virginity Tests in the Middle East and South Asia, Part 2

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By Claire Davaine

International Women's Initiative Staff Writer 

When The Governments Meddle In

Some countries are still using virginity tests to ensure the bride virginity, but virginity tests are also perpetrated in other situations. Several countries are today performing virginity tests for more controversial purpose, for example, to ensure that women are virgins when they enter the military, or even to gather evidence for legal cases involving rape accusations. Tests have also been performed when women are accused of moral crimes or have run away from home.Egypt, Iraq and Indonesia to name a few, have had their fair share of controversial virginity testing.


Virginity test “to prove that the girls were not virgins so that they would not accuse the army of rape later on”

In 2011, the Egyptian military has been accused of carrying out virginity tests on female protesters arrested in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring in. A 20-year old woman said she was stripped naked in prison, with male guards leering, laughing and taking pictures of her while a man inspected her genitalia and threatened her with prostitution charges, the BBC reports. 

Egypt admitted its military forces had performed virginity tests on women detained during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. A high-ranking general told CNN that the tests were performed “to prove that the girls were not virgins so that they would not accuse the army of rape later on.” Amnesty International stated the purpose of the horrific tests was simply to "degrade women because they are women." More, it described the virginity tests as "nothing less than torture." 

In December 2011, the Cairo Administrative Court ordered an end to the shameful procedure and ruled that the practice was illegal and a violation of women’s rights and an assault on their dignity. A verdict seen as a victory for all the women protesters who were subjected to virginity checks performed by a military doctor. But in March 2012, the ‘doctors’ who carried out the tests was acquitted of all charges and the practice still continues. Indeed, despite the court ruling, the illegal practice is still used in Egyptian detention facilities. In late 2013 and early 2014, new accusations emerged from female protesters who had been detained during more recent anti-military protests.

Samira Ibrahim is the Egyptian woman who filed the first suit against the government, initiating public discussion of the Egyptian government's use of the testing. She said in response to the physician's acquittal, "A woman’s body should not be used as a tool for intimidation, and nobody should have their dignity violated."


Isis Yazidi sex slaves subjected to intrusive virginity tests after escaping

Yazidis are a Kurdish religious community living mainly in Iraq. Since 2014, with the territorial gains of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Yazidi women are kidnapped, tortured, forced to marriage and raped. If some survived the horrors at the hands of the Islamic State group in Iraq and escaped to Kurdistan, returning to their community has been made difficult.  

A Human Rights Watch reports that some northern Iraqi women were subjected to invasive virginity testing by Kurdistani officials to prove they were abused.  Traumatised after months of rape and torture at the hands of IS militants, victims are not only enduring invasive virginity test but also facing the risk to be ostracised by their community. More, these virginity tests devalue rape survivors.Indeed, the Kurdish and Yazidi cultures, which condemn women who have had pre-marital sex, and obsession of virginity are causing the suicide of young women. 

A specialized RSAC (RINJ Sexual Assault Clinic) nurse recently reported:“Clearly we are paving new ground in Kurdistan. The ongoing mental health care we do is my primary focus. That means special education because rape survivors in most of the world cannot tell their family they are no longer a ‘virgin’ nor their community. We [currently] need to create an environment in which their basic needs are provided in isolation of people who would hurt them in any way, [including their family and community].”

Judge Bamerny told Human Rights Watch researchers that the committee has stopped using the examinations. Instead, the health directorate in Kurdistan's Dohuk has adopted a new medical examination report on sexual violence based on UN recommendations, "consistent with human rights and best practice".

Dohuk', capital of Dohuk Governorate in Kurdistan and part of Iraqi Kurdistan, chief judge has also agreed to accept these reports for legal proceedings, he said. "As officials work towards proper forensic examinations of rape survivors, they should ensure that all women and girls in Iraq who were subject to sexual violence are treated with dignity and respect," said Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch.


Two-finger virginity test for women applying to join the military

“Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination,” Gerntholtz said. “Authorities exploit this unscientific and degrading ‘test’ even though a woman’s sexual history has absolutely no bearing on whether she is qualified for a job or determining whether she was raped.”

In 2014, the Human Rights Watch reported that a physical virginity test is routinely performed on women candidates to the Indonesian Police force as part of the job application process. Many organisations pointed out the injustice of the practice as it is sexist, painful and traumatising. They also point out that virginity is irrelevant to whether or not an officer would be able to do her police duty.

However, the commander of Indonesia’s armed forces believes that invasive virginity tests for female recruits are a good thing and the only way to gauge the women’s morality. Although he conceded there is no direct link between a woman being a virgin and her abilities as a member of the armed forces, he insisted that virginity was a gauge of a woman’s morality – one of the three key traits he said a woman must have to serve in the Indonesian National Armed Forces, along with high academic aptitude and physical strength. His statements came a day after the group Human Rights Watch urged Indonesia to abolish the practice as the tests have been recognized internationally as violations of the right to non-discrimination and the prohibition of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under international human rights treaties that Indonesia has ratified.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, the country’s highest Islamic authority, has also come out in opposition to the practice, saying it goes against Muslim jurisprudence.Although condemned from all or almost, these virginity tests are used to screen women who apply for the national police force. More, proposals to introduce “virginity tests” for school girls in Indonesia are also repeatedly raised.

In August 2013, it was announced in Prabumulih district, South Sumatra, Indonesia, by education chief Muhammad Rasyid that female teens attending high school there would be given mandatory annual virginity tests, beginning in 2014. The stated intent is to reduce promiscuity in the district. 

“No place for virginity testing in modern practice” states the World Health Organization.

Whatsoever the reasons, virginity testing constitutes a clear violation of women’s and girls’ right to privacy and bodily integrity. In addition to the no scientific validity of commonly method used, such as the “two-finger test”, and the inaccurate belief that all women and girls who have not had sex have intact hymens that bleed during first intercourse, it can be painful and distressing.

Thus, the World Health Organization has repeatedly called for an end to virginity testing, asserting that is a penetrative test and a human rights violation that should never be used to examine victims of sexual trauma. According to a recent handbook, WHO points out that the tests violate international human rights standards against degrading treatment and are a form of discrimination against women. More it is unable to evidence or deny a crime of rape or adultery.But the abusive tests will only be abolished through education of government, medical community.