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Blog Post #1 Nov. 26, 2022

By: Abhishek Ranjan & Kanishka Pamecha

INDONESIAN ARMY: THE CULT OF VIRGINITY TEST

The long-standing practice of “virginity test” as part of the recruitment process for female cadets in Indonesia’s armed forces has finally come to an end. Thousands of female applicants have been subjected to virginity tests since 1965, despite the National Police principles that recruitment must be “non-discriminatory” and “humane.” The tests were done to determine whether or not they are sexually active and hence whether or not they are “moral” and “worthy of the office.” Human rights organizations have long considered the process a continuation of the invasive and discredited so-called virginity test, which is progressively being phased out in many areas.

WHAT IS A VIRGINITY TEST?

A virginity test is a vaginal or hymen examination to examine whether a woman has engaged in sexual intercourse. It is also known as the “two-finger test, where the doctor inserts two fingers inside a woman’s vagina to check the state and laxity of the hymen. However, the state of the hymen hardly answers this question. The size of a hymen may vary for many reasons unrelated to sex.

NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS

This test was once regarded as a sign of sexual activity, but health organizations have disproved this view. They advocate that this practice has no scientific basis and violates human rights. There is no recognized test that can establish a person’s vaginal intercourse history. The World Health Organization also recognizes it as an unscientific practice. The practice is “degrading, discriminatory, and traumatic.” The only scientific consequence of this test is the negative impact on the physical and psychological well-being of the women subjected to this test.

This primitive and humiliating practice does not measure female candidates’ and prospective fiances’ physical and mental health. Women who intend to join the army should be evaluated only based on their ability to follow basic military training, just like their male colleagues. The recruitment process for male and female candidates must be equal. And the women intending to marry military soldiers should not be forced to undergo such a humiliating procedure that has no scientific or medical merit.

VIOLATION OF LAWS

Forced virginity tests are unpleasant, painful, and inhumane, intended to degrade and marginalize women. It is an affront to a woman’s dignity and reputation and a violation of her right to bodily privacy. The World Health Organization recommended abolishing such testing in 2018, calling the test a “violation of the human rights of girls and women .”Since the test constitutes an attack on women’s “honor and reputation,” it breaches Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Similarly, Article 17 of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (ICCPR) recognizes the individual’s right to privacy in the same way as the UDHR does. It reveals a lot about women’s societal attitudes and constraints if they don’t want to harm their reputations. The test is also a breach of Indonesia’s ratification of the “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment .”The test also violates Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Article 2 of the UDHR grants freedom from “discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status .”In addition, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (CEDAW) in 1979. Discrimination against women is prohibited by the CEDAW and other human rights treaties. Since men are not subjected to virginity testing, the practice is discriminatory against women because it has the effect or purpose of denying women the opportunity to work as police officers on an equal footing with men. Indonesia is a signatory to the Convention and is bound by international law to refrain from discriminating against women. On the other hand, the tests are a form of political and cultural discrimination against women. To summarize, the military’s virginity tests on women’s bodies are flagrant human rights abuses. Both domestic and international rules are broken by the test’s cruel and degrading nature.

These tests have lasted for decades, revealing the Indonesian armed force’s tone-deaf hiring policy and deep-rooted value of ignorance of human rights, dignity, social justice, and non-discrimination principles. Worse, none of the military officers have ever faced administrative or legal consequences for their actions. Organizational accountability and legal accountability are the most apparent solution, as respect for women’s dignity is one of the TNI code of ethics values. According to Article 2(d) of TNI Law No. 34/2004, military soldiers accept political policies that comply with the ideals of democracy, civil supremacy, human rights, and provisions of national and international laws that Indonesia has ratified. This compliance leads us to the following paradox. Although Indonesia had ratified various international conventions and treaties that promote equal rights for women and respect for their dignity, such as the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,” the TNI continued the practice for so long.

ROAD AHEAD

Women comprise only 10% of the country’s 450,000 military troops. Abolition of this practice could mean more opportunities for women to join the military. Virginity testing is a global issue that raises concerns about female physical autonomy, sexual health, and women’s rights. Since the dawn of time, societies have looked for a physical sign to determine virginity; however, this is now acknowledged to be scientifically impossible. Although most countries have abolished the “archaic” and “unscientific” practice of virginity tests, it is still practiced in at least 20 countries. Lately, illicit virginity testing has been discovered in prisons and detention centers worldwide, most notably in Egypt, India, Iran, and Afghanistan. Eliminating the dangerous practice will necessitate a concerted effort from all sectors of society, particularly the public health community, health systems, and health professionals. Virginity testing has no scientific basis and cannot establish past vaginal penetration. Health practitioners and their professional bodies should be aware of this. They should also be mindful of the health and human rights implications of virginity testing and should never perform or encourage it. Communities and other relevant stakeholders should conduct public awareness efforts to debunk virginity myths. 

The elimination of virginity tests as part of the recruitment process for female cadets in Indonesia’s armed forces is undoubtedly a positive step in the right direction, but it only touches the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more still to be done. Only by combating harmful views about female “purity,” a concept that overlaps significant social, cultural, and religious beliefs, can long-term reform be achieved.

About the Authors: 

Abhishek Ranjan is currently a fourth-year law student pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Dr. RML National Law University, Lucknow. His academic interests particularly lie in Human Rights Law, Public Policy, Diplomacy, and International Law.

Kanishka Pamecha is currently a fourth-year law student pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Dr. RML National Law University, Lucknow. Her academic interests particularly lie in Women’s Rights, Labour Law, and Environmental Law.

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