Getting the Facts Straight on Indonesia’s Virginity Tests for Young Women

Just like a saga, the recent media brouhaha on virginity testing for young girls in Indonesia proves that the discourse on this testing is far from over.

In 2007, several students of Indramayu got involved in a sex video case. Indramayu regent Irianto MS Syafiuddin said back then that mandatory virginity tests will be enforced on young female students to determine if they are virgins – subject to their dismissal if proven otherwise. Although the testing never happened, the ‘virginity’ discussion continues to roll.

On 30 October 2012, the District Education Office of Seluma Regency and North proposed that virginity and pregnancy tests be conducted on young female students. After this pronouncement, the high schools came directly under fire from women’s groups such as the Concerned Women’s Network Bengkulu (JPPB) – an alliance of women’s organizations in Bengkulu composed of 12 NGOs. The virginity testing proposal originated from the dismissal of a pregnant student in one Bengkulu school. At that time, a spokesperson of JPPB said, “If these tests are implemented then the state would have power and control over women's bodies. Psychologically, virginity tests without the consent of the child and without the presence of the child's parents can be a traumatic event for them.”

In 2012, two cases related with virginity tests appeared on 24 September 2012, at SMK Hasanuddin, Eretan, Indramayu and in early May 2012 in the Madiun Public Junior High School. In these two cases, one female student was forced to drop out of school because after the testing, it was “proven” that she is allegedly “no longer a virgin”. The other female student was so ashamed of herself because of the publicity caused by her case that she had a difficult time finishing the school year.

There were no serious efforts of the schools and other agencies to give a fair hearing to the students. The female students forced to undergo virginity tests were asked to make a statement that they are still virgins. Their parents were likewise ‘reprimanded’ by the school for not being able to give a ‘good moral education’ to their children. As a result, these students felt guilt, shame, and trauma.

Last August 2013, the Department of Education in Prabumulih City, South Sumatra was on the spotlight over the alleged proposal for mandatory virginity tests for female students in high schools in the province. In confirmation of the reports in the media, HM Rashid, the education head of the province, explained that virginity testing is a proposal from parents of students to respond to allegations of human trafficking teams that “their children are no longer virgins." Rashid said, “I only responded to their proposal and I supported it in order to prevent defamation.”  

The media has succeeded in blowing this case out of proportion in pursuit of high ratings and ultimately for the benefit of the media business. The media has given a misleading picture about women's sexuality. The “virginity myth” is perpetuated once more and created a stir in the communities.

Print and online media could serve as a friend or foe of the women's movement. Despite having an extensive network, journalists failed to dig deeper into the issue. They package the news in such a way that it can reach as many readers and advertisers.

In this case, the importance of women activists participating in online community media network in order to provide rapid response and give a different perspective to mainstream media coverage is paramount.

In addition to gender-biased news media, educators and parents can also fan the flames, to the detriment of the young students. In the case of Prabumulih City in which the students were caught in human trafficking raids – female students were then “accused” of not being virgins anymore. In Indonesian context, these allegations stigmatize women and condemn them as “immoral.” When parents feel their ‘dignity’ is smeared; without thinking, they propose virginity tests.

Most educators and parents believe that virginity tests are the easiest answer to tackle students' freedom of sexual behavior and to curb the increasing cases of human trafficking. However, as expressed by Dr. Andri Wanananda MS, of the Tarumanegara University – a sexology expert, female virginity is often exaggerated out of proportion. Female virginity is considered “easier to determine,” although the cause varies.

According to Dr. Wanananda, "intact hymen should be examined by the obstetrician or midwife - experts in obstetrics clinic procedures through intra-vaginal examination.” For many women, these checks cause discomfort physically and psychologically. Social pressure is also a contributing factor. Results of virginity tests, when used, cause the female students to be more vulnerable to discrimination and psychological violence instead.

Educators, health workers and parents need to understand that every woman, including their daughters, have the right to decide for themselves – including their own bodies, including when or whether she wants to get married, when to have children , how many children and so on. Pregnant students also have rights to continue their education that are protected by the state. Everyone, both men and women, must maintain his or her health and respect to other people's bodies.

Both men and women need to know information related to their bodies and sexuality. Fulfilment of the right to quality sexual education is not as easy and not as fast as virginity testing. But the long term impact is very broad, including giving the confidence and understanding the biological aspects of the body.

Ignorance about sexuality will continue to lead to ‘virginity testing’ debates in Indonesia. Next year or two years from now, the same stories will appear elsewhere as long as the media picks up the issue to create sensational news rather than to speak up for women’s rights as it happens in rape and sexual harassment cases. Recurring events like this cannot be allowed because it will give space for mass media to publicize a false myth of female sexuality. Women’s rights activists should also understand the way mass media works so they check and re-check the news in order to give appropriate responses.

Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM-Indonesia)

Original Statement Released on August 27, 2013 (in Indonesian language)


Photo Credit: www.irrawaddy.org

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