Experts say that so-called virginity tests are traumatizing, discriminatory toward woman and are not even scientifically valid (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)
A proposal to make female junior and senior high school students undergo mandatory virginity tests as a requirement for graduation has sparked outrage in Indonesia from activists and teachers, saying such a plan discriminates against women.
Mufti Ali, a member of the legislative assembly in Jember district, East Java province, raised the idea last week during a meeting with the district’s education service office. He said that a bylaw on good behavior containing the virginity test article should be issued to lessen the number of students having pre-marital sex.
Reports say that around 10 percent of the district’s approximately 1,200 HIV/AIDS patients are students. In the province, the district is the third largest urban area with a population of 300,000.
“The Jember legislators should immediately kill that idea and issue an apology for raising the medieval discourse,” Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told ucanews.com on Tuesday.
He said that he was shocked when reading the news report about the proposal. “I was born and grew up in Jember. The virginity test idea doesn’t sound like the town with moderate Muslims, mostly from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) that I used to know.”
According to Harsono, HRW has conducted interviews with more than 20 women in various cities in the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia that had undergone virginity tests. “They are traumatized because of the tests,” he said.
In fact, Harsono continued, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that all governments should end degrading, discriminatory and unscientific virginity tests for girls and women.
“The WHO handbook emphasizes the respect for a woman’s rights and comfort and makes clear that any physical exam should be conducted only with informed consent and focused on determining the nature of medical care required. It concludes that the invasive and degrading virginity test or the ‘two-finger test’ still used in some countries to prove whether a woman or girl is a virgin has no scientific validity,” Harsono said.
He also suggested that NU clerics should openly oppose the proposal.
Nihayatul Wafiroh from NU’s Fatayat, an organization dealing with young women, rejected the proposal and said that Islam doesn’t condone virginity tests.
“In Islam, there’s only one thing: how to prevent [people] from having pre-marital sexual activities. A virgin or not, it’s not just because of sexual intercourse, there must be another reason. We should open up our minds,” she told ucanews.com.
She also called on people to think about the students’ psychological condition. “How do they check for virginity? A two-finger test? What’s the benefit?” she said.
“If people have concerns about free sex among students, don’t just blame them. It’s a complex issue,” she added, mentioning the lack of sex education and the absence of attentive parents and teachers.
Umar Sya’ni, the principal of SMAN 5 Jember high school, said he appreciated the legislator’s idea of preventing students from having pre-marital sexual activities but called the proposal wrong-headed.
“The proposal of a virginity test as one of the requirements for the students’ graduations is not in the right time and difficult to do here. There will be a psychological impact on students,” he told ucanews.com.
Meanwhile, the district’s deputy speaker of the legislative assembly Ayub Junaidi offered his apologies to all Indonesian people, particularly girls and women in the district.
“What my fellow legislators raised is based on our will to protect students from free sex as the number of HIV/AIDS patients who are students is pretty high. This is what we want to deal with,” he told ucanews.com.
He also said that legislators would call on the district’s education service office to provide students with sex education. “Thus, students will have a better understanding about the danger of free sex.”
“So once again, it’s not about a virginity test,” he maintained.