The uproar was immediate after H.M. Rasyid, education chief of Prabumulih district in Indonesia’s south, announced last week that female high school students should undergo mandatory virginity tests as “an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex.” Rasyid announced that he would use city funding for the tests which he described as “for their own good” as “every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts.”
The call for virginity tests is a not very subtle sign of how the education of young women in traditional societies has become intertwined with efforts to control their bodies and stigmatize them for “improprieties.” In South Africa, girls who become pregnant are often expelled from school. If the policy is meant as a deterrent, it is failing: a 2002 study found that one in every three teenage South Africans had become pregnant by the age of 19. 94,000 teenagers are thought to have become pregnant in 2011 alone.
Uproar Over Virginity Test Proposal
Rasyid’s proposal, which called for female high school students aged 16-19 years old to have their hymens examined every year when they were graduating, was said to be in response to a perceived problem with promiscuity among teenage girls amid reports that six high school students had been arrested for allegations of prostitution.
It was the third time that such a plan has been proposed in Indonesia. Similar proposals had been made in Java in 2007 and in 2010 in Sumatra.
Both were dropped following public outrage and the same has happened this time. Politicians, activists, rights groups and the local Islamic advisory council have all criticized Rasyid’s plan, saying that such tests violate girls’ human rights and deprive them of their universal right to education as well as targeting those who may have been victims of sexual assault. Education minister Mohammed Nuh called the tests “degrading and discriminatory.”
Nuh also said that there is a “wiser way to address the issue of teen sex.” While Rasyid himself has been claiming he was misquoted, the issue of virginity is likely to remain a topic of discussion and contention in Indonesia, a country of 240 million where “rapidly changing mores … can sometimes create tension among the country’s more conservative elders and its large, more moderate youth.” Last year, Indonesian lawmakers proposed a ban on miniskirts on the grounds that “provocative clothing makes men do things.”
Girls and women have also been subjected to virginity tests in Afghanistan and India. In March 2011 in Egypt, the sexual assault of six women by Egyptian military officers was referred to as “virginity tests.” It was only in July of this year that India’s Supreme Court decreed that the so-called “two-finger test” which many doctors have used during medical and legal examinations of rape survivors in parts of India “violates the right of rape survivors to privacy, physical and mental integrity and dignity. “
Pregnant Teens Banned From School in South Africa
Things are slowly changing for girls in South Africa. This past July, the Constitutional Court ordered two state schools to stop banning pregnant girls.
They still have very few options if they wish to continue their education: South Africa has only one school, Pretoria Hospital School, for pregnant girls. 108 students ages 13 to 18 are currently enrolled; after giving birth, the teens are able to return to finish the academic year.
Principal Rina Van Niekerk has worked at the school for 25 years and emphasizes the challenges faced by students who are pregnant.
Some object to the creation of separate schools for pregnant girls. Andile Dube, the director of LoveLife, South Africa’s largest organization targeting HIV/AIDS among young people, argues that separate schools “only deal with pregnancy management rather than prevention.” Creating separate schools is equivalent to saying that pregnancy in teens is “something that has to be treated differently.”
At a time when thousands of girls in Western nations are preparing for a new school year, too many other young women are facing daunting obstacles just to go to school at all. Education is a human right and one that too many girls are deprived of. Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai has shown that girls can overcome huge odds to get the education they are entitled to.
Sign this petition to help protect young girls from virginity tests in Indonesia.
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