These are the countries where "virginity tests" are still a thing
How stressful was your last job application? What about your college entry statement? To hazard a guess, it probably seemed like the worst thing in the world at the time. But no matter how many hours you spent labouring over whether to use that semi-colon, or debating whether to mention that brief stint as editor of the student paper, it is almost entirely guaranteed that you didn’t have to go through a process as distressing or invasive as the “two finger test”.
Describing the process of a health inspector inserting their fingers inside the vagina, to “check” for the presence of a hymen, the term sounds like something that should have been consigned to history long ago. After all, a hymen is not an indicator of sexual status, and can break for all kinds of reasons, including active sports, use of tampons and even just a plain old growth spurt. In 2014, the practice was condemned by the World Health Organisation who stated that: “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity” and called for governments to “prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice.” Yet for women in many countries across the world, virginity tests are still a very real pre-requisite to education or employment.
Most people would probably argue that if you're seeking to serve your country, then the least you could be granted with is a little respect. But at present, the two-finger test is still required for female entrants to the Indonesian National Police and the military, who justify it by saying that they are checking for pregnancy - despite the fact that this test cannot actually determine pregnancy. So far the two organisations have ignored pressure from human rights groups domestically and across the world to stop the practice, with Indonesian military spokesman Fuad Basya telling The Guardian that: “If they are no longer virgins, if they are naughty, it means their mentality is not good.”
In 2011, a number of Egyptian women taking part in protests in Tahrir Square were subjected to virginity tests by the military officials and threatened with prostitution charges if found to have “failed” the tests. But while it is easy to think that this was simply a case of opportunistic soldiers taking advantage of a situation, it’s not only those in extreme circumstances that are advocating this. In October 2016, an Egyptian politician called for women to undergo virginity tests to “prove they’re a Miss” before entry to university. Fortunately, the plan is yet to go ahead, but newspaper the Egypt Independent still lists the country as one of those where the tests are frequently carried out.
Despite being officially banned, virginity tests are still widely practiced in Afghanistan, with one doctor telling the BBC in late 2017 that she was still asked to perform up to 10 such examinations every single day. Women who have run away from their husband or family - which is a crime in itself - are particularly vulnerable to being subjected to the tests, which are often ordered by the country’s police and government officials in line with the country’s strict moral laws. According to Human Rights Watch, almost half of women and 95 per cent of juvenile girls imprisoned in the country are there for "moral crimes", which makes for a whole lot of virginity tests.
In June 2017, it was revealed that doctors in Russia's Saratov reigion had apparently been ordered by the Russian Investigative Committee - the main federal investigations unit in the country - to perform virginity tests on girls under the age of 16. The health minister in Saratov, Vladimir Shuldyakov, also stated that doctors must: “inform police about all cases when virginity was lost as well as about cases of pregnancies and abortions involving girls under 16 years old.” After huge public backlash, he later rescinded the order, which was also criticised by the Ministry of Health in Moscow.
Although the practice of virginity testing is banned in India, it still holds strength in some communities, including the Kanjarbhat, who believe that a woman must be "pure" on her wedding night. Immediately after a marriage, a white sheet is laid out for the newly married couple to have sex on whilst their families wait outside. If the woman does not bleed, the marriage may be annulled. And although the result can be disputed, this does not always work, as one woman told the Indian Express: "Eventually, when they couldn’t reach a conclusion, she was asked to hold a scorching metal ball. They said if she was innocent she wouldn’t burn. Obviously she burnt herself, and they pronounced her guilty." Fortunately, attitudes towards this do seem to be changing, with young people from the community launching a “Stop the V-Ritual” social media campaign and enlisting the help of local police.
Virginity tests have become a thorny topic in South African society, with the South African Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) ruling in 2016 that a "maiden bursary" scheme, introduced to provide financial support for women to attend education only if they remain virgins was "unlawful, unfair, unreasonable and unconstitutional." Zulu tribes, on the contrary, maintain that the tests are part of their cultural heritage. According to the Daily Post Nigeria, in September 2017 up to 45,000 girls underwent virginity testing before being allowed to take place in the annual Reed Dance, in which girls parade past Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini's palace. The tests, which had all but died out before King Goodwill resurrected them in 1984, are carried out by female village elders.
Humiliating and invasive as this practice may be, these countries are just a few of the where virginity tests are still commonly used; instances have also been reported in Turkey, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Malawi and Iran, among others. Rare cases have also been reported in Canada and Spain in recent years. Advocates of virginity testing say that these tests can honour a woman's dignity, protect women from STIs and even offer them a line of defence against rape.
But at the end of the day, they are based on a flawed science that has been repeatedly disproved, and which can have incredibly long lasting effects for those deemed to have "failed", including social stigma and jail time. Campaigns like Stop the V-Ritual offer hope that with the next generation things will change, but given that women's groups and human rights organisations have been fighting for literally decades to end this, the continued support for it by some raises the question of whether we will ever see an end to it. Which is a pretty depressing thought, really.