On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing Indonesian police forces subjecting women to “virginity tests” as part of the recruitment process for new candidates. This humiliating and flawed test, known as the “two-finger test,” is allegedly performed to verify a woman’s virginity by checking if the hymen is still intact.
In an article in Vice News, IWHC President Françoise Girard notes these tests are a recurring practice in a number of countries and occur against a backdrop of sexism and men’s control of women’s bodies:
It goes back to this age-old notion that women’s bodies are not theirs, that women’s virginity is a concern of men, of the patriarchy, of the community, of the authority.
[…]It can be used to discredit them, to impair their mobility, to deny them work and education.
These tests are an abuse of women’s basic human rights, and may be discouraging able, qualified women from considering entering the police force. As Human Rights Watch’s Nisha Varia notes, “This pernicious practice not only keeps able women out of the police, but deprives all Indonesians of a police force with the most genuinely qualified officers.”
Moreover, Girard added, the tests are pointless because they don’t prove anything. “It’s absolutely impossible to tell whether a woman has ever had sex through a gynecological exam,” she told Vice.
Virginity testing isn’t restricted to police force candidates. Vice notes that in Egypt, female Arab Spring protestors were subjected to these tests, in order to cast doubt on the morality of the women. In India, police routinely performed virginity tests on rape survivors to verify their claim (this practice was outlawed in March).
Outside a criminal justice context, virginity tests have been performed at high schools in Nigeria; in South Sumatra, Indonesia, one school administrator proposed testing girls entering high school there. Male students, meanwhile, are not subjected to any kind of test.
In some communities in Afghanistan, virginity tests are performed on women before they are allowed to marry. According to the humanitarian news agency IRIN, “failing the test can result in so-called honour killings, an under-reported crime usually carried out by the families and relatives who believe a young girl or woman has brought shame on them.”
Girard pointed out that women often feel powerless to object to these tests: “In many societies, the tests are widely accepted, so it’s hard for women to refuse them.”