Virginity testing is a terrible violation of girls and women’s rights and bodily integrity that is currently being practiced in several countries around the world. The purpose of the “test” is to prove that the girl or a woman is a virgin, usually for the purposes of marriage, but sometimes also as a requirement for women to be considered for certain jobs. The practice has been known to exist in India, the Balkan countries and in the Middle East, but recently the Swedish TV4 broadcasted a documentary on how virginity testing is commonly practiced in several Swedish medical clinics.
Not only is this practice a gross violation of girls’ rights, it is also medically inaccurate. It is impossible to tell reliably whether a woman or a girl is a virgin or not. The commonly believed claim that an intact hymen indicates virginity is, in fact, completely wrong; there is no way to determine if a woman has had sex. In some cultures and religions a girl must be a virgin to marry. Therefore parents send their daughters to the hospital, and ask for a certificate on the girl’s virginity, often against her will. The examination usually includes penetration and other painful methods. The TV show called Kalla Fakta (“Cold Facts”) had heard rumors about this happening in regular medical clinics in Sweden, and started an investigation.
In the documentary, actors are sent into several medical clinics with hidden cameras to ask for a virginity certificate for their family member. The actor playing the daughter is clearly showing that she does not want to be examined, nor get a certificate. However, most of the doctors agree with the “aunt”, and tell the patient that this is normal and something they have done many times before. One doctor even suggests sewing together part of the girl’s vagina before the wedding, to make her bleed when she has intercourse during her wedding night. The fact that this is happening in Sweden, a country considered one of the most progressive in terms of human rights, well-being and gender equality, has shocked a lot of people both in Sweden and globally.
To examine a girls vagina against her will is as much of a violation of her rights and bodily integrity as rape is. Not only should doctors and nurses know that it is simply not possible to determine the virginity of a woman through an examination, medical professionals should, without any hesitation categorically refuse such requests from any parents or family members – and report such situations to the police and social services to protect girls from this terrible practice. WHO, medical professionals, activists and human rights organizations all over the world condemn virginity testing, yet the lack of knowledge about this inexistent body part complicates the fight for a significant change. Almost every dictionary still contains an explanation about the hymen being a virginity indicator, which is both shocking and devastating.
Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence which simply cannot be justified. Not only is it medically impossible to determine a girl’s virginity, doing so especially against a girl’s will is always a violation of her human rights and self-autonomy. If you hear of something like this happening in your town, city or country – speak up! Our bodies are our own, and it is our joint responsibility to speak up against those who violate our right to safety and bodily integrity.
Featured image: Yara Kassem / Flickr