'The virginity test is an unscientific, cruel, degrading and discriminatory treatment that a woman should never experience'
Jakarta. Human rights activists have called on President Joko Widodo to formally ban all so-called virginity tests by public institutions in Indonesia, including those used by the Indonesian police and military against female recruits.
Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that Joko should issue a presidential instruction to specifically address the problem.
He made the call following a report last week that the local legislature in the East Java town of Jember was mulling a bylaw that would require female high school students there to pass a virginity test as a requirement for graduation.
The plan sparked an outcry from activists the country over, who have also long protested the use of virginity tests by the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) as part of their selection process for new cadets. Even fiancees of TNI soldiers are subject to a virginity test; they must pass it in order to be able to marry a soldier.
“The recent debate on virginity tests is just an extension of the existing issues,” Andreas told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “There will always be controversies about the virginity test until the president himself instructs [state institutions] to prohibit the practice.”
Andreas said the virginity test violated human rights. He said many women fainted or were traumatized after undergoing the crudely named and offensively invasive “two-finger test.” Officials’ typical defense of the procedure is that it is carried out by a female examiner.
“The virginity test is an unscientific, cruel, degrading and discriminatory treatment that a woman should never experience,” Andreas said, echoing a statement from the World Health Organization.
The WHO in December condemned virginity testing in Indonesia, following news reports that the police continued to administer the test for women applying to join the force.
A commissioner with the National Commission on Violence Against Women, Kunthi Tridewiyanti, said Indonesia should not violate its citizens’ privacy.
“The state, the lawmakers — they don’t have any business with someone’s virginity. That’s a private matter that must stay protected. Moreover, what does virginity have to do with educational achievements? It’s nonsense,” Kunthi said in response to the Jember controversy.
“There are many more ways to educate our younger generations or to preserve their morals. Virginity testing, however, is an overreaction. There’s no reason to perform it.”
Kunthi added that the test proved that the patriarchal tradition was still very much in force in the country.
“This issue indicates that discrimination against women continues to take place here,” she said. “Our country, in a way, still has that patriarchal system or mind-set that limits women and girls from expressing themselves, whether in finding a job or even in marriage.”
A Muslim high-school girl sits in a classroom. A local Indonesian
MP had proposed that all girls have a virginity test in order
to graduate from school. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters