Human Rights Watch has stepped forward, urging governments worldwide to abide by the World Health Organization’s recommendation to end the invasive practice of so-called “virginity testing.”
“Health authorities worldwide should end the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, HRW women’s rights director.
“‘Virginity testing’ is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination,” said Gerntholtz. “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.”
The recommendation, issued in a November 2014 handbook by the WHO, states that any exam performed should always be under informed consent and should focus determining medical care. “The WHO handbook upholds the widely accepted medical view that virginity tests are worthless,” said Gerntholtz.
“Governments and doctors should abide by the WHO handbook to ensure that they conduct themselves ethically, respect women’s privacy and dignity, and take steps to educate their peers to end the scourge of virginity testing,” Gerntholtz added.
The report said many governments in the Middle East and Africa perform the practice on women, sometimes even at the behest of their family. In some countries, the test is performed on women accused of robbery or other crimes, the results of which can be used as evidence against the defendants in court.
In Egypt, after the 25 January 2011 revolution, many female protesters attested to having been rounded up by security forces and forced by a military doctor to undergo virginity testing.
Despite being ruled illegal as well as “a violation of women’s rights and an assault on their dignity” in an Egyptian administrative court, the only officer tried for administering virginity tests was acquitted in March 2012.
Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim came to the front of the debate when she filed the charges against the doctor, saying she was detained for four days in a military prison after being accused of rioting, throwing Molotov cocktails and assaulting security forces. During detention, she attested to being tortured and forced to undergo a virginity test.
In May 2011, then Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Amnesty International that at least 17 women had been forced to undergo the tests to “protect” the army against possible allegations of rape.
Despite being illegal, detention facilities in Egypt have continued the practice. As recent as January, a Cairo University student told Buzz Feed she was held in detention for almost two weeks, forced to undergo virginity and pregnancy tests after she attended a demonstration organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Upon her release, though no formal charges were filed against her, she was handed a medical bill for her ‘treatment’.