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Virginity Testing

Virginity testing, also referred to as hymen or “two-finger” or per vaginal examination, is a gynecological examination of the female genitalia which is examination conducted under the belief that it determines whether a girl has had vaginal intercourse.

Virginity testing is a shameful long-standing tradition that has been documented in at least 20 countries spanning all regions of the world, namely- Afghanistan, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Libya, Malawi, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territories, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Turkey, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Zimbabwe.

Women and girls are subjected, and often forced, to undergo virginity testing for various reasons.

These include requests from parents or potential partners to establish marriage eligibility or from employers for employment eligibility. It is mostly performed by doctors, police officers, or community leaders on women and girls in order to assess their virtue, honor or social value. In some regions, it is common practice for health professionals to perform virginity testing on victims of rape, supposedly to ascertain whether or not rape occurred.

Virginity testing is often performed by inspecting the hymen for tears or its size of opening, and/or inserting fingers into the vagina (the “two-finger” test). Both techniques are practiced under the belief that the appearance of the female genitalia can indicate a girl’s or woman’s history of sexual activity.

According to WHO there is no evidence that either method can prove whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse or not.

Is there anything as such Virginity testing?

The word “virgin” comes from the Latin root Virgo, literally meaning “maiden” – interpreted as a young woman who has not had vaginal intercourse.

It is important to understand that the term “virginity” is not a medical or scientific term. Rather, the concept of “virginity” is a social, cultural and religious construct – one that reflects gender discrimination against women and girls.

The social expectation that girls and women should remain “virgins” (i.e., without having sexual intercourse) is based on stereotyped notions that female sexuality should be curtailed within marriage.

Impacts of these tests on a girl?

These examinations are not only a violation of girl’s human rights, but in cases of rape can cause additional pain and mimic the original act of sexual violence, leading to re-experience, re-traumatization and re-victimization.

Many women suffer from adverse short- and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences of this practice. This includes anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. In extreme cases, women or girls may attempt suicide or be killed in the name of “honor”.

Women prisoners and those in detention facilities are at heightened risk of abuse and mistreatment, including forced virginity examinations. Virginity tests on women prisoners are common, intimidating and humiliating; they violate women’s rights to privacy and physical integrity, and further disempower them.

How can this shameful act be eliminated?

Strengthen the knowledge & training of health-care providers:

Health-care providers, especially those who work in family practice, obstetrics, gynecology, sexual health and pediatrics, have a critical role to play in the elimination of virginity testing from medical practice. In order for long-term abandonment of the practice, health-care providers must be knowledgeable about the virginity or “two-finger” test, including reasons why it must not be performed; its lack of scientific merit or clinical utility, and associated health risks and consequences; how to decline requests to perform the examination; how to prevent, recognize and manage complications; and how to counsel women and their families about the test.

Build supportive legislative & policy frameworks:

It is the responsibility of the state to uphold, respect, protect and monitor the human rights of all its citizens, including those violated by virginity testing. States and all concerned regulatory bodies should develop plans of action and set milestones to encourage the elimination of this harmful practice.

All possible risks, misinterpretations and means of evasion should be analyzed, to avoid unintended consequences, such as the practice “going underground”. Legislation must prohibit all forms and methods of virginity testing.

Empower & mobilize communities:

As virginity testing is often community led, community action will be critical to its elimination. Confrontation of cultural or social norms has diverse and unique challenges; interventions must be tailored to specific populations and population subgroups. With sustained, community-led agreements to eliminate virginity testing, new social standards will emerge that challenge long-standing, harmful social norms.

Virginity testing violate women’s rights to privacy and physical integrity.

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