Indonesian police and military refuse to end abusive ‘virginity testing’: Human Rights Watch

In 2014 and 2015, Human Rights Watch released disturbing reports on the Indonesian military and police’s use of “virginity testing” on female recruits, an abusive and anachronistic practice that has absolutely no scientific validity. The report sparked an outcry and widespread condemnation, but the police and military both stubbornly defended the practice, saying it was essential to determining the “morality” of their female recruits.

A follow-up report by HRW released today, based on information from senior military and police officers, reveals that the practice of virginity testing is still being imposed on female recruits, although they are being euphemistically classified as “psychological” examinations for “mental health and morality reasons.” There have also been attempts to justify the “two-finger test” as a means of determining pregnancy status (which would also have no scientific basis).

“The Indonesian government’s continuing tolerance for abusive ‘virginity tests’ by the security forces reflects an appalling lack of political will to protect the rights of Indonesian women,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at HRW. “These tests are degrading and discriminatory, and they harm women’s equal access to important job opportunities.”

In November 2014, the World Health Organization issued guidelines that stated, “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.” HRW and other human rights organizations consider the test, meant to determine whether the recruits’ hymens are still intact, is cruel, invasive and a form of gender-based violence.

So why hasn’t the government done anything to end it? An Indonesian military doctor told HRW that senior military personnel were well-aware of the arguments against the practice but were unwilling to abolish it without the support of their superiors, with the doctor suggesting it might take a direct order by Indonesian military commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo to end to the practice.

However, it seems unlikely that the military will end the practice internally. All branches of the armed forces have been using “virginity testing” for decades and, in some circumstances, even the fiancés of military officers have been required to take them. Military officials strongly defended the practice when it came under fire after HRW’s original reports.

The top Indonesian military commander at the time, General Moeldoko, brushed off the criticism, saying that virginity testing was essential to assessing the morality of female recruits. “Yes, that is one of the conditions. So what is the problem?” he told reporters as quoted by Tempo. “It is for a good reason, so why should it be criticized?”

An Indonesian military spokesman Major General Fuad Basya, also told reporters in 2015 that virginity tests were necessary so that soldiers had the right mentality. “You can imagine, if later a prostitute became a soldier, what would happen to Indonesia’s military,” he told BBC Indonesia.

Those misguided and misogynistic views are unfortunately not limited to the police or military. Just this year, a famous Indonesian judge named Binsar Gultom stirred controversy with a book in which he argued that virginity testing for women was necessary to preserve the “purity of marriage”.

With change unlikely to come from within the military or police for, HRW has advised President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order top police and military commanders to immediately ban “virginity tests”, especially in light of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

“Indonesian women who seek to serve their country by joining the security forces shouldn’t have to subject themselves to an abusive and discriminatory ‘virginity test’ to do so,” HRW’s Varia said. “The Indonesian police and military cannot effectively protect all Indonesians, women and men, so long as a mindset of discrimination permeates their ranks.”

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