(New York) – Indonesian medical associations should publicly denounce so-called virginity tests obligatory for female applicants to the Indonesian National Armed Forces and National Police, Human Rights Watch said in letters sent on February 20, 2018. Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence and has been widely discredited, including by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Indonesian Society of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the Indonesian Medical Association should issue public statements condemning “virginity testing” and demand that Indonesia’s police and military cease inflicting it on female applicants. Neither association has formally responded to Human Rights Watch’s calls that they pressure the police and military to stop “virginity tests.” By ending “virginity testing,” the Indonesian government would be abiding by its international human rights obligations and honoring the goals of International Women’s Day on March 8.
“Medical associations should put Indonesia’s armed forces and police on notice that ‘virginity tests’ are a form of violence against women – not a credible medical practice,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director. “The groups should also inform their members that any physician who inflicts ‘virginity tests’ on women or girls violates the medical principle of ‘do no harm’ and may face professional discipline.”
Senior military and police officers with knowledge of the “virginity testing” policy told Human Rights Watch that security forces continue to impose these cruel and discriminatory procedures, which are officially classified as “psychological” examinations, for “mental health and morality reasons.”
In November 2014, WHO issued guidelines that state: “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”
Human Rights Watch first exposed the use of “virginity tests” by Indonesian security forces in 2014. Since then the government has failed to take the steps necessary to prohibit the practice. While Human Rights Watch found that applicants who were deemed to have “failed” the test were not necessarily penalized, all of the women with whom we spoke with described the test as painful, embarrassing, and traumatic.
Several Indonesian military and police officers said that security forces have also sought to justify the “two-finger test” as means of determining if applicants are pregnant. The “two-finger test” cannot determine pregnancy status, and employment discrimination based on pregnancy status is in any event a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Indonesia’s international legal obligations.
All branches of the Indonesian military – air force, army, and navy – have used “virginity tests” for decades and, in certain circumstances, have also extended the requirement to the fiancées of military officers. In May 2015, the then-commander of Indonesia’s armed forces, General Moeldoko, responded to criticism of “virginity tests” by telling the media: “So what’s the problem? It’s a good thing, so why criticize it?”
Indonesian military spokesperson Fuad Basya that same month asserted that “virginity tests” were a means of screening out inappropriate female recruits. “If they are no longer virgins, if they are naughty, it means their mentality is not good,” Basya told the Guardian. The current Indonesian armed forces commander, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, has taken no steps to ban the practice.
Human Rights Watch has documented the use of abusive “virginity tests” by security forces in Egypt, India, and Afghanistan as well as in Indonesia, and has criticized calls for “virginity tests” for school girls in Indonesia.
“Virginity tests” have been recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, particularly the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Indonesia has ratified. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, states in a General Comment that the aim of article 7 is “to protect both the dignity and the physical and mental integrity of the individual.” Coerced virginity testing compromises the dignity of women and violates their physical and mental integrity.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other human rights treaties prohibit discrimination against women. Because men are not subjected to virginity testing, the practice constitutes discrimination against women as it has the effect or purpose of denying women on a basis of equality with men the ability to work as police officers.
“It’s shocking that the Indonesian military and police still require abusive ‘virginity tests’ and are standing by offensive and discriminatory reasons for its use,” Varia said. “Indonesian medical associations need to oppose giving any medical legitimacy to these ‘tests’ and press for their immediate abolition.”