Activists are hopeful that the invasive and degrading “virginity tests” common in Afghanistan will soon be a thing of the past.
Though the practice — which rights groups and the World Health Organization have condemned as discriminatory and scientifically invalid — was reportedly banned in 2016, the humiliating “tests” remain widespread in the country.
Now, the Afghanistan arm of the reproductive and sexual health nonprofit Marie Stopes believes a new public health policy has finally put the end of the practice within sight, the Guardian reported.
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“Virginity tests” involve checking for an intact hymen in order to prove that a girl or woman has never engaged in sexual intercourse. However, it is widely agreed upon that such tests have no scientific validity and that the lack of an intact hymen is not proof of sexual activity. The hymen, a thin membrane that covers the vaginal opening, can be torn or stretched from a variety of activities, including sports, and some women are born without them.
In Afghanistan and countries like India, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, and South Africa, “virginity tests” are often conducted due to cultural or religious beliefs that inextricably link a girl’s value to her virginity.
In countries that rely on “virginity tests,” the tests are often conducted to confirm virginity before marriage, to validate rape claims, or to check an applicant’s eligibility for a job (as in Indonesia for military and police recruits).
In Afghanistan, the tests are typically conducted by doctors and health workers — frequently without consent, according to Soraya Sobhrang, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. And failing a “virginity test” can lead to charges of “moral crimes” and carries the risk of imprisonment, shunning, and even becoming the victim of a so-called honor killing.
According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, almost half of all women incarcerated in Afghanistan – and 95% of girls in juvenile detention – are there for “moral crimes” such as sex before marriage. #leavenogirlbehindhttps://t.co/Ardj3K3ppn— Gemma Wilson-Clark (@GWilsonClark) July 5, 2018
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Marie Stopes Afghanistan plans to work with local doctors and nurses to ensure that the new policy is understood and implemented across all provinces.
“We hope this means that, when the police or a family bring in a woman or girl and demand that they perform a virginity test, it will no longer be a procedure that is conducted by health professionals – and that, in this way, it will help shift cultural attitudes among law enforcement and in wider society as well,” Farhad Javid, country director for Marie Stopes International in Afghanistan, told the Guardian.
“Public health policy in Afghanistan is strong and respected both in government and Taliban areas, it goes above sharia law and we have expectations that it will be respected and implemented across all provinces,” he said.
Javid also said that the nonprofit intends to help free the thousands of girls and women believed to be imprisoned for failing “virginity tests.”