Invasive and medically meaningless examinations, which are meant to determine a girl or women’s virginity status by inspecting their hymen or inserting fingers into their vagina, have persisted in Afghanistan, despite the government’s official public health policy that bars health workers from engaging in the abusive practice.

The prevalence of virginity exams continues as prosecutors and law enforcement officers often order these tests in cases of moral crimes to submit as evidence which lead to longer prison sentences. Women who fail the virginity exam can be incarcerated for up to three months, but many women and girls are jailed for a year and a half. Even if women are determined to be a virgin, the stigma of the test itself ruins women’s reputations and bring humiliation to women. Girls and women who are found simply walking alongside a male can be accused of premarital sex and subjected to the harmful exam.

“Virginity examinations” are humiliating, traumatic, and nonconsensual practices that attempt to determine whether a woman or a girl had premarital sex, which is considered a moral crime in Afghanistan. Virginity tests are documented to be practiced around the world in at least 20 countries, but the U.N., World Health Organization, U.N. Women, and U.N. Human Rights called for a global ban in 2018. WHO has said that there is no scientific evidence that virginity exams can prove whether a person has had vaginal intercourse or not and should not be practiced, as girls and women’s hymens can vary with some remaining intact after sexual intercourse and others not even born with a hymen.

In July 2018, the Ministry of Public Health issued an official public health policy that barred government health workers from practicing virginity tests and ended the use of virginity tests as a basis for women to be jailed.

The U.N. has called these virginity exams discriminatory against women and a violation of human rights. stating “the social expectation that girls and women should remain ‘virgins’ is based on stereotyped notions that female sexuality should be curtailed within marriage. This notion is harmful to women and girls globally.”

 

Media Resources: NPR 10/1918; Human Rights Watch 7/10/18

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