BY: AISHA ILYAD
Being a virgin is apparently a condition for acceptance for girls looking to attend university in Egypt. Elhamy Agina, an Egyptian member of parliament, wants all Egyptian girls to undergo compulsory “virginity tests” prior to recieving admission into universities. Last month the same lawmaker advocated that women in his country should undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) to “reduce their sexual desires” to match that of Egypt’s “sexually weak” men.
A virginity test is the practice and process of determining whether a person, usually a girl or woman is a virgin; i.e., whether she has never engaged in sexual intercourse. The test typically involves a check for the presence of an intact hymen, on the assumption that it can only be torn as a result of sexual intercourse.
Now, according to the MP any girl who enters university must give her medical examination to prove she is a MISS, the results of which would be submitted to their parents. Agina’s use of “Miss” was widely interpreted by Egyptians on social media as referring to a woman who is a virgin. And they took to Twitter and Facebook to ridicule Agina and call for punitive measures against him.
According to Agina, the virginity tests would help reduce the number of “Urfi marriages” in the country. Urfi marriages that are also known as “customary marriages,” are officiated by a cleric but are not officially registered and require only two witnesses – unlike traditional Egyptian marriages that require the blessings of both families. Often held in secret, the Urfi unions have become increasingly popular among young Egyptians who want to avoid high wedding costs, as well as family and cultural pressures.
Virginity testing is widely considered controversial, both because of its implications for the tested girls and women, and because it is viewed as unethical. Requiring a female to undergo a virginity test is widely seen as harmful, especially when it is performed on behalf of a government. The practice is seen as sexist, perpetuating the notion that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is acceptable for men, but not for women, and suggesting that a woman’s sexual activity should be subject to public knowledge and criticism, while men’s should not.
Egyptian women had this experience before as well, when military forces performed virginity tests on women detained during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. After Amnesty International protested to the Egyptian government in March 2011, the government claimed the tests were carried out in order to refute claims that the women had been raped while in detention. Amnesty International described the virginity tests as “nothing less than torture.” Virginity tests done by the military on detainees were banned in Egypt on December 27, 2011, but in March 2012, the physician who carried out the tests was acquitted of all charges.
Virginity testing was also used on women entering the United Kingdom on a so-called fiancée visa, when they said they were immigrating to marry their fiancés who were already living in the country. The British government argued that if the women were virgins, they were more likely to be telling the truth about their reason for immigrating into the country.
In August 2013, it was announced in Prabumulih district, South Sumatra, Indonesia by the education chief that female teens attending high school there would be given mandatory annual virginity tests, beginning in 2014. In 2014 the Human Rights Watch reported that a physical virginity test is routinely performed on female candidates to the Indonesian Police force as part of the job application process.
If passed, the new request would be added to an already long list of virginity testing requirements around the world, and would subsequently contribute to the growing pile of women’s rights violations that these tests ignite. Furthermore, the new request would be even more damaging, as it acts as a heavy deterrent for women who wish to go to university.
An online petition has been gathering momentum, with 84,900 signatures of its 85,000 goal. The petition letter reads: “Globally, women are already far less likely to be able to attend college due to circumstances out of their control. To strip them of their humanity by making them take a fake test is nothing short of unacceptable. Egyptian Minister of Education: reject all mandates requiring virginity tests.”
You can sign the petition here.