Ban Virginity Tests
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A virginity test is a method of checking if a girl or woman is a virgin. This usually involves checking for an intact hymen in the mistaken belief that a torn hymen means a woman has had sex. Virginity tests are commonly used in Muslim and other conservative communities because their customs say women must be virgins when marrying their husbands.
However, there is no scientific way to prove a girl or woman's virginity. A hymen can be broken in a number of ways - during exercise, riding a bike, using a tampon or simply falling over - and some women are even born without a hymen. In reality the custom is used by men, who themselves do not practise abstinence, to control women’s bodies and their behaviour.
Virginity testing is a long-standing practice in the UK. In the 1970s it was reportedly carried out by immigration officials on women arriving from the Indian sub-continent to marry their British-Asian fiancés.
Now, exclusively carried out by private clinics the extent to which virginity testing goes on in the UK is unknown. However, a BBC Newsbeat investigation in 2020 identified at least 21 clinics offering such tests, as well as hymen repair surgery, costing between £1,500-£3,000, should the girl or woman fail the test. A similar investigation was also conducted by The Sunday Times which said “‘Restoring virgins’ is a big earner for British surgeons”.
Tragically, failed virginity tests can result in violence, sexual assault, banishment from the community and even honour killings. This is not something that just goes on abroad. This is a very real British problem.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on governments; health professionals and their associations; international, regional and national health agencies, and communities to end virginity tests.
The WHO determined that being physically forced or emotionally pressured into having a virginity test is a direct violation of a woman’s human rights; the rights of the child; the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to be protected from discrimination based on sex; the rights to privacy and physical integrity; the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to life.
The Middle Eastern Women & Society Organisation (MEWSo) is calling on the UK Government, the National Health Service and its agencies, private health clinics, health professionals and associations, local authorities and relevant voluntary organisations across the UK to put this ban into practice.
It should be made illegal to give any form of virginity test. It should be made illegal to write, sign or administer in any way certificates as a result of a virginity test. It should be made illegal to indicate in any way - by spoken word, a shake or nod of the head, any indication whatever - the result of a virginity test. Finally, it should be made a criminal offence for anyone - clinics, doctors, parents and/or guardian/s, family or community members - to instigate a virginity test.
However, to ensure this practice is permanently stopped and not just driven underground, the Government, and all the agencies mentioned above, also need to make a commitment to educate health professionals, communities and school children about the myths that surround a woman’s virginity.
They must be educated about:
- the damaging lies that continue to insist a woman’s virginity can be tested scientifically;
- the very real harm, both physical and psychological, that virginity tests cause;
- the need for children and young people to have sex education that can dispel these myths, and
- the rights of girls and women to choose and control their own sexual life.
There also needs to be services in place to intervene and protect women and girls trying to assert their right to not be violated in this way, and who subsequently face very real dangers to their health and, in some cases, to their lives.
Please, sign this petition and join with MEWSo in calling on the Government to ban this brutality once and for all, and to challenge these barbaric customs and backward attitudes.
Halaleh Taheri, Founder & Executive Director of MEWSo. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about MEWSo and its other campaigns visit mewso.org.
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