Indonesia urged to ban virginity tests for fiancées of officers, female recruits

AFP Photo / Bay Ismoyo
Indonesian authorities have been urged to cease the “invasive” and “discriminatory” practice of “virginity tests” for female recruits and fiancées of military officers in the country’s armed forces.

International military physicians are set to gather in Bali, Indonesia on May 17-22, 2015, to urge the country’s president, Joko Widodo, to stop the practice, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ on women recruits does nothing to strengthen national security,” Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM), said.

“President Joko Widodo should set the military straight and immediately abolish the requirement and prevent all military hospitals from administering it,” she added.

READ MORE: Indonesia to ban virginity tests for female civil servants…except police

Human Rights Watch recently found out that all branches of Indonesian military, including the Air Force, Army and Navy, have used the test for decades. The same rules strangely apply to the fiancées of military officers.

The tests are carried out in large halls – separated into examination rooms using curtains – in military hospitals, a military doctor told HRW.

The organization interviewed 11 women who had been subjected to the test, including a female officer at the military health center and a doctor who was employed with a military hospital in Jakarta.

“The women were positioned like women giving birth. In 2008, I administered the test myself. Those young women were totally unwilling to be positioned in such an opened position. It took an effort to make them willing to [undergo the virginity test]. It was not [just] a humiliating act anymore. It was a torture. I decided not to do it again,” a female military medic said.

READ MORE: Schoolgirl virginity test plan dropped in Indonesia following intl uproar

Another woman, currently a major, recalled how she underwent the test in late 1980s.

“I graduated from a teachers’ training college in Semarang in 1988. I decided to join the Navy and took the [applicants’ entrance] test. It included the virginity test. It’s humiliating,” she said.

“I was surprised when watching TV and seeing policewomen protesting the test. I salute them. Military women are not as outspoken as policewomen. It’s impossible to have active military women to oppose the test. I personally agree that we have to stop the test. But I am just a major. Who will listen to a female major in the Navy?”

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Those who “failed” to pass the test weren’t penalized, but said that the test had been traumatic, embarrassing, and painful.

“What shocked me was finding out that the doctor who was to perform the test was a man. I felt humiliated. It was very tense. It’s all mixed up. I hope the future medical examination excludes the ‘virginity test.’ It’s against the rights of every woman,” a female recruit who applied to serve in 2013 said.

The interviewees also told Human Rights Watch that only women with “powerful connections” or those who bribed the military doctors were excluded from the testing.

Opinions differed on the reason to hold the tests, though: some female military recruits said military officers had informed them the tests were crucial to preserving “the dignity and the honor of the nation.”

Also, a retired Air Force officer wondered how she could “defend the honor of our nation if we cannot defend our own honor.”

READ MORE: Indonesia still performs ‘virginity tests’ on female police job applicants - HRW

Finally, two military wives said that they had been told that “virginity tests” helped stabilize “military families,” in which the husbands are often away on duty for months.

Human Rights Watch sent letters to the ICMM and 16 member countries, urging experts to call on the Indonesian authorities and prohibit the practice.

It follows another letter by the human rights organization to Major General Daniel Tjen, the general surgeon of the country’s National Armed Forces. The letter reportedly got no response from the official.

The practice of “virginity tests” has been widely condemned, with the November 2014 guidelines by the World Health Organization stating that “there is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”