In a new report, international agencies are calling for an elimination of virginity tests, stating that they're medically unnecessary and a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
The report, produced by U.N. Human Rights, U.N. Women and the World Health Organization (WHO) urges more than twenty countries to stop the gynecological procedure used to allegedly test the virginity on unmarried women and girls, many times under force, threat or coercion for various reasons including requests from parents or potential partners to establish marriage eligibility or even from potential employers.
"When I was seventeen and about to get married, I was forced to undergo a virginity test against my will. If I failed the test, my family would disown me,” said member of a women’s support group in East London, South Africa, who will be referred to as "Sophia" so as not to be identified.
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'These deep-seated beliefs are rooted in history, with examples including higher dowries for 'virgins' or the Medieval era's use of the chastity belt. The origins of virginity testing are based in patriarchal systems of gender discrimination, and harmful views about female sexuality,” Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, physician and coordinator of the UN report told Metro.
Sophia comes from Mthatha, a city in South Africa, where family and long-standing traditions serve a great value. She explains that there is a social expectation that girls and women should remain “virgins” until marriage.
“The test was made to see if I was suitable for marriage. To prove my innocence, purity and good morals.” Sophia said.
What are virginity tests?
A virginity test is an inspection of the female genitalia meant to determine whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse. The two most common techniques for virginity tests are either an inspection of the hymen or a two-finger test. Both are performed under the belief that the female genitalia can indicate a girl’s or woman’s history of sexual activity.
Neither version of these virginity tests is supported by scientific evidence and has no clinical basis.
“Virginity exams are in no way a method to prove or disprove someone's virginity,” Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk-In GYN Care, told Metro.
Dr.Gupta explains that there is no examination that can prove a girl or woman has had sex. The appearance of a girl’s or woman’s hymen cannot prove whether they have had sexual intercourse or are sexually active or not.
“The 2-finger test and the exam of the hymen is not specific at all,” Dr. Gupta said. “Many girls may lose their hymen from just various physical activities such as bike riding, horse riding etc. Many others may have naturally wide vaginas which would 'fail' the 2-finger test.”
Despite the fact that virginity tests are unscientific, medically unnecessary and unreliable, professional doctors and police officers still perform these examinations.
“I have received several requests at various occasions in the U.S. and I refuse to have them use my exam as a ‘virginity’ exam,” Dr. Gupta said.
Virginity testing can lead to harmful consequences
Exposing women and girls to unnecessary gynocological exams can have a wide range of physical, psychological and social consequences. A virginity test without true consent violates a patient’s integrity, privacy, and dignity. The examination itself is painful and can lead to bleeding and infection.
”The virginity test is the most humiliating thing I have ever gone through. I felt ashamed, scared, humiliated and assaulted. An experience that will haunt me forever,” Sophia said.
Dr. Garcia explains that the findings of the virginity tests can have serious legal, physical, emotional and social consequences. This includes exclusion from marriage, fewer employment opportunities, perceived dishonor brought to the family, anxiety, and depression.
“In extreme cases, examinees have been known to have attempted suicide when the test proved them not to be virgins,” Dr. Garcia said.
Sophia said that she knew about some girls from her town that had failed the test and therefore got isolated from their families and the community as a form of punishment.
The UN statement calls on governments, health professionals and communities at large to ban virginity testing and to create national guidelines for health professionals, particularly in countries were virginity testing is widely practiced.
Dr. Garcia believes that in order to end virginity testing, we must ensure health professionals are aware of the evidence and trained to never perform virginity testing.
“Virginity testing is a human rights violation that no one should be forced to go through,” Sophia said.