Indonesia’s Discriminatory and Violating “Virginity Tests” for Military and Police Women

For more than 30 years, Indonesia has subjected women who either enlist in the military or the Indonesian National Police or who want to marry a man in the military to a procedure that is described by human rights advocates as “discriminatory and invasive.” This procedure, called a “two-finger test,” is meant to determine “the mentality of applicants” and is meant to determine whether or not a woman is a virgin. However, according to the World Health Organization and the nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW)it’s actually not reliable or scientifically accurate at all.

The virginity tests rely on the existence of a thin, vestigial tissue layer called the hymen, which should theoretically be intact if a woman is a virgin or has not been subjected to one of these tests. Pretty foolproof way of telling, right? Other than its potential to be emotionally scarring and traumatizing for applicants, the sexist social values it’s based on, and the fact that there is absolutely no way whatsoever to tell whether a woman has had sex based on her hymen, it’s an excellent system. The hymen often wears down throughout a woman’s life for a number of factors besides intercourse, such as wearing menstrual products and participating in sports. In fact, many women are born without one at all. Because of this, there are procedures available to either repair a torn hymen in order to pass the two-finger test or to have it removed.

Recently, after harsh criticisms from HRW — including a statement from HRW’s Women’s Rights Director Liesl Gerntholtzthat saying that virginity tests are “discriminating and degrading” — the issue has garnered attention from a number of media sources.

When pressed to give a justification for the testing, Indonesian military spokesperson Fuad Basya told The Guardian that the military needs to “examine the mentality of these applicants… We will continue to carry out the test because to be a military person, the most important thing is your mentality. Physical and intellectual requirements are secondary.” Except, to me the virginity tests seem like a bit more of a physical requirement, since the only thing they really test is whether a tissue layer is intact or not.

The tests have proven to be extremely emotionally scarring for the thousands of women involved. According to a powerful series of testimonials on HRW’s website from women who have been forced to undergo the procedure, the tests are humiliating and akin to torture. Some women describe the scarring effects it has on their marriages and relationships. One woman in particular shares the extreme discomfort and violation that she experienced during her test to enlist in the military in 2013:

“What shocked me was finding out that the doctor who was to perform the test was a man… I felt humiliated. It was very tense. It’s all mixed up. I hope the future medical examination excludes ‘virginity test.’ It’s against the rights of every woman.”

Yet other women describe the financial bias with the tests, explaining that with enough money or a high enough rank in the military, the applicants or their fiancés can bribe the doctors to pass them without a test.

We can truly be grateful that this issue has come to the attention of news sources in the last month. Although human rights violations of this magnitude rarely have easy solutions, the more media attention these invasive and discriminatory tests receive, the sooner they may be abandoned. If possible, take the time to sign this petition to Major General Daniel Tjen, urging him to abolish the practice in his country.

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