By Venia Kontogianni,
It is no secret that women’s rights get trampled particularly in the Asian and African continents. In these regions, women are expected to be modern day slaves, patiently awaiting the male liberator, who will cut the ceremonial red ribbon, so that the obedient housewife life can finally commence. However, there is a specific practice that takes the cake for one of the most atrocious tactics of humiliating women, and that is the gender-based violent, “two-finger” virginity testing. This method, which is the norm mainly in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, involves the insertion of a certain number of fingers in the woman’s vagina in order to determine whether she is sexually active or not. Recently, this practice was banned in the Punjab region of Pakistan. However, the World Health Organization estimates that roughly twenty countries still perform this physical check. It is a procedure mainly done on alleged rape victims, in order to determine the validity of their claims. I will attempt to elaborate on everything that is wrong with that.
First of all, the two-finger test is conducted mainly in the cases of sexual assault to determine the existence of an intact hymen. However, this method lacks credibility from the get-go: the laxity of the vagina or a broken hymen alone does not always translate into either sexual assault or consensual intercourse. Consequently, the test is used to measure the sexual experience of a woman; if she is found not to be sufficiently “tight”, she may have had a sexual partner before. This could be used to write her off as not an actual rape victim, as if not being a virgin means she cannot fall victim to sexual assault. For a woman who gets attacked in these regions, it all boils down to the verdict of a single person, who has the power to discredit her claims without the use of professional medical equipment or methods. The key factor is the social context into which such practices take place, which are typically characterized by adamant patriarchal values that stem from the individual religious dogma of each region. The problem with such doctrines lies in the fact that they, more often than not, peddle a so-called female “virtue” that is directly dependent on a woman’s sexual activity. The term “virginity” serves more as a social construct rather than a scientific one, and as a social construct that was created to portray a woman’s pure ethics. Therefore, the latter bears misogynistic origins and, in some societies, controlling ways to restrict female bodies and needs by the chains of “morality”. Interestingly enough, since the obligation of “guarding” this virtue befalls on women, these societies tend to shift the blame of sexual assaults onto them. What is more, usually offenders are hard to convict because of weak laws and intricate processes.
With all this in mind, one has to examine the consequences of these invasive physical inspections, which can be traumatic multifacetedly. Physically, it could cause discomfort, pain, hemorrhage, unwanted hymen tear or even infections due to unsanitary or hasty handling. Mentally, the “examined” women may experience depression, post-traumatic stress and they are left to deal with the degrading feeling that their worth is so little that no other more humane and respectful physical examination can be provided; only the intrusive finger method, which is a hollow indicator that provides meritless, non-scientific results, according to the World Health Organization. Socially, women have to face the internalized stigma that hinders others from speaking up, resulting in unregistered rape cases and the protection of molesters. This practice underlines all that is wrong with these procedures; even in the so-called “developed west”, the practices differ, but the feelings do not. There is a parallel between a girl having two fingers up her vagina in the east side of the globe and a girl having to answer what she was wearing when it happened or why she did not scream for help or what she was doing alone so late at night in the west part of it. The common ground of it is that somehow some perceive this as being partly the girl’s fault.
The recent ban of the virginity testing in the Pakistani region of Punjab comes as a hopeful step forward. Other middle eastern countries, like India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, have abolished the method too, albeit sometimes only on paper. Sadly, there have been reports on forced testing in Afghanistan even though, officially, consent is required to perform it. At an international level, the World Health Organization along with the United Nations have condemned the practice, while providing ample evidence on how it violates women’s rights, as well as the medicinal principle of “do no harm”. Moreover, it lacks any scientific background and credible results and perpetuates gender discrimination. It is hoped that more countries show the finger to the finger technique.
- Mantilla, Karla, “PAKISTAN: Rape Law Changed.” Off Our Backs 36, no. 3 (2006): 5. Available here.
- United Nations, United Nations agencies call for ban on virginity testing. Available here.
- United Nations, Eliminating virginity testing: An interagency statement. Available here.
- Reuters, Afghan women illegally forced into ‘virginity tests’. Available here.