Global Health

World Health Organization Calls For an End to “Virginity Tests”

A recently released handbook by the World Health Organization (WHO) states “virginity tests” – a “two-finger test” used to determine whether or not a woman has had sex or has been sexually assaulted – has no scientific basis and should never be used.

via Tanti Ruwani
via Tanti Ruwani

In the handbook, WHO stated that virginity tests used on women and girls to “prove” virginity have “no scientific validity” and pointed out that the tests violate international human rights standards against degrading treatment and are a form of discrimination against women.

“Prejudice and negative stereotypes against women and girls are passed off as medical science by many doctors who wrongly believe they can determine a woman’s virginity,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, who is the director of women’s rights at HRW. “Governments and doctors should abide by the WHO handbook to ensure that they conduct themselves ethically, respect women’s privacy and dignity, and take steps to educate their peers to end the scourge of ‘virginity testing.’”

Virginity tests are still used in many parts of the world, including North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. In Indonesia, these virginity tests are used to screen women who apply for the national police force, and proposals to institute the tests for schoolgirls are routinely brought up. There have also been reports of teachers in Brazil being required to “prove” their virginity, and protesters in Egypt who have to do the same after being arrested. In Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented virginity tests performed. Authorities in the country used these tests to investigate what they consider to be “moral crimes,” such as sex outside of marriage.

HRW found that women who are accused of these “moral crimes” are often already fleeing violence in the home, and sometimes the tests are performed on women who are accused of robbery or assault because of a mistake in policy. Because authorities in Afghanistan claim virginity tests can determine whether or not a woman has had consensual sex outside of marriage, the results of the test are used as evidence and often lead to convictions.

The WHO handbook also provides real ways for healthcare providers to proceed with someone who has been sexually assaulted. WHO suggests approaching the patient with kindness, not forcing the patient to talk about anything they do not want to talk about, offering emergency contraception, obtaining consent before any examinations for injuries or STI tests, and offering options for future mental health services.

Media Resources: Human Rights Watch 12/2/14; LA Times 12/2/14; World Health Organization 2014

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