A major breakthrough was secured for Afghan women last week following a new policy that aims to prohibit virgin testing across health care facilities.
While virginity testing was banned in 2016, many law enforcement and healthcare officials continue to engage in examinations and incarceration of women and girls accused of not having intact hymens. The new policy will increase funding to humanitarian aid groups in Afghanistan and aim to install zero-tolerance measures in all healthcare facilities, thereby challenging the culture surrounding virginity tests.
“It’s been a very long struggle, but we see this as a major breakthrough because public health policy in Afghanistan is strong and respected both in government and Taliban areas,” said Farah Javid, director of the humanitarian organization Marie Stopes International. “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.”
The breakthrough comes after years of activism from Human Rights campaigners, including the World Health Organization, who have condemned the exam as “degrading, discriminatory and unscientific.”
However, the ramifications of virginity tests remain widespread. Administered to girls as young as 12, a failed test result comes with heavy penalties of 3-18 months in prison. Charged with ‘moral crimes’- a category 50% of all incarcerated Afghan women are currently imprisoned for- the social stigma associated with testing still persists, leading to increased risks of abuse, poverty and family abandonment.
At this time, investigating officials have only limited estimates of ‘the number of women and girls who are being killed or harmed’ as a result of exams, with it being even more difficult to identify those currently in prison for such offenses. This new victory is therefore a crucial step in paving the way towards a safer world for Afghan women.
President Ashraf Ghani was elected in 2014 on a pro-women’s rights campaign, and has since elevated women in almost all senior levels of government.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 6/27/18; The Guardian 7/5/18; Global Citizen 7/5/18; Human Rights Watch 5/25/16