The Indonesian government has launched a long-overdue campaign to eradicate the cruel practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The campaign, led by Yohana Yembise, the country’s minister for women’s empowerment and child protection, will deploy “scientific evidence” to dissuade religious and women’s groups who support FGM. Between 2010 to 2015, 49 percent of girls from birth to 14 years of age in Indonesia had undergone FGM.

A girl is seen through a fence before prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia September 12, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

The campaign is just the latest government effort to end FGM. The government banned the practice in 2006, but buckled to pressure from Islamic organizations in 2010 and issued a regulation allowing FGM “if it is carried out by medical professionals, such as doctors, midwives and nurses.” The government repealed that regulation in 2014, but has not specified penalties for those who carry out FGM.

FGM violates women’s and girls’ rights to health and to be free from violence. The procedure, which serves no medical purpose and is irreversible, inflicts severe pain on young girls and can be life-threatening. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all specifically obligate governments to respect these rights for girls and women.

Yembise’s attention to the horrors of FGM will hopefully spur her and her ministry to target another serious abuse against women: the use of “virginity tests” on female applicants to the National Police and Indonesian Armed Forces. Indonesia’s National Police have imposed these abusive and degrading tests on thousands of female applicants since as early as 1965, even though National Police principles say recruitment must be both “nondiscriminatory” and “humane.” Such tests have long been obligatory for female military recruits as well, according to Tedjo Edhi, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for politics, law, and security.

“Virginity tests” have been recognized internationally as violations of the right to nondiscrimination and the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under international human rights treaties Indonesia has ratified. The World Health Organization has stated unambiguously that, “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Indonesia should show the same determination in ending “virginity testing” as it has shown in taking on FGM.