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Indonesia Military Urged to Stop 'Virginity Tests' against Women Recruits; Procedure Was 'Discriminatory and Invasive'

( [email protected] ) May 15, 2015 02:50 AM EDT
Human rights activists have deplored Indonesia's policy of making women trying to enter its police force and fiancées of military officers undergo "virginity testing," saying the procedure was "discriminatory and invasive."
Indonesian women air force troops sing a military song during a parade during celebrations to mark the 55th annivesary of the air force in Jakarta. Reuters

Human rights activists have deplored Indonesia's policy of making women trying to enter its police force and fiancées of military officers undergo "virginity testing," saying the procedure was "discriminatory and invasive."

In a statement, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged international military physicians, who would be convening for a conference in the resort island of Bali later this week, to issue a stand against the testing.

"The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful and humiliating 'virginity tests' on women recruits does nothing to strengthen national security," said Nisha Varia, women's rights advocacy director. "President Joko Widodo should set the military straight and immediately abolish the requirement and prevent all military hospitals from administering it."

The rights watchdog said it sent appeals to the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM) and 16 of its member countries to pressure Indonesia to put an end to the practice.

"Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence and is a widely discredited practice," the group pointed out. It also cited a guideline issued by the World Health Organization in November 2014, which stated "There is no place for virginity (or 'two-finger') testing; it has no scientific validity."

HRW exposed the practice last year, interviewing several women from the police force and wives of military officers.

One of the women the group interviewed was applying to the military academy. She recalled having mixed feelings after learning that the doctor who would administer the test was a man.

"What shocked me was finding out that the doctor who was to perform the test was a man. I had mixed feelings," said the woman, whom the HRW did not name for fear of reprisal. "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."

Another woman, a wife of a military officer, related her harrowing experience as well. She said she had to take the medical exam, including the virginity test, before she married her fiancé, a navy officer, in 2008.

The woman, whose identity was likewise being kept for fear of backlash, said other officers' fiancées could skip the test because their most of their fathers were in the upper echelons of the military.

The wife shared his experience with other wives, and they later learned that some women paid doctors to pass the test in military hospitals.

Sometimes the young officers paid some money to have their fiancées declared to have intact hymens," she said.

"But there were also sympathetic doctors who asked the young women whether their fiancés are going to marry them if their hymens are declared to be torn," she continued. "[In such cases] the doctor usually writes "hymen intact.'"

Last year, a senior police official defended the policy, insisting that the testing ensured that the National Police had women in its ranks having "high moral standards." Inspector General Moechgiyarto also insinuated in a media interview that those who failed the test "were prostitutes."

HRW's Varia appealed to the ICMM, who would convene their world conference on May 17, to make a stand and urge Indonesia that such testing was not justifiable.

"The ICMM should make clear to the Indonesian military that this abusive practice has no place in a job application process or an individual's choice of whom to marry and should not be inflicted under a veneer of 'military medicine,'" she said.