Indonesia’s ‘degrading’ virginity tests must stop, rights group says

The recommendation comes after Human Rights Watch (HRW) Indonesia reported in late November that the test was being practiced on women wanting to enter Indonesia’s police force.

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“I had to take my clothes off in front of 20 other candidates,” a female police recruit who wanted to remain anonymous told HRW Indonesia. “[The doctor] put two fingers inside me using gel. It hurt very much.”

Pak Andreas Harsono, a researcher for HRW in Indonesia, has lambasted the “two-finger” test.

“It is cruel, it is discriminatory, it is degrading,” he said. “The Indonesian government has to stop this kind of practice.”

“If [a recruit] turns out to be a prostitute, then how could we accept her for the job?”

Yefri Heriyani, director of women’s rights group Nurani Perempuan in Padang, West Sumatra, who has spoken with women who have undergone the test, said she was concerned about the impact the tests have on their wellbeing. 

“These policewomen experience trauma and stress while doing the virginity tests, yet [the National Police make] no clear attempt to help them recover. 

“No effort is made to help them out of their stress and trauma. Consequently, it will affect their lives in the long term. Many of them blame themselves for taking the test.”

WHO’s recommendation to stop such practice was included in a 2014 November handbook titled “Health care for women subjected to intimate partner violence or sexual violence”.

“It is cruel, it is discriminatory, it is degrading. The Indonesian government has to stop this kind of practice.”

The handbook emphasised that any physical exam should focus on determining the nature of medical care required, and that a virginity test is a medically discredited practice.

“There is no place for virginity testing; it has no scientific validity,” it stated.

Indonesian Police spokesman Pak Ronny Franky Sompie said that the force’s compulsory obstetrics and gynaecology exam was only medical in nature.

“All prospective students – male and female – who enrol in educational institutions must undertake thorough medical examinations, including of their reproductive regions, to ensure they have the level of physical health needed to enter the police force,” he said.

“If a woman is not a virgin, her capacity to work is not affected. Police as the law enforcement must comply with existing laws.”

When asked how a woman’s virginity was indicative of her physical health, he responded: “Our obstetrics and gynaecology tests are conducted in a balanced way by distinguished representatives [of the police force].”

Head of the National Police Law Division, Inspector General Moechgiyarto, however, said virginity tests were not about a woman’s ability to perform in the force.

“We need to check the quality [of female candidates] by checking their virginity,” Inspector Moechgiyarto told reporters at a conference in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

He said that the chief objective of the test, which is conducted by female physicians at hospitals administered by the police, was to ensure that Indonesian policewomen were not immoral.

“If [a recruit] turns out to be a prostitute, then how could we accept her for the job?” he said.

The test was not performed on males, he said, because there was no procedure to determine a man’s virginity.  

One of the highest ranking female officers within the Indonesian Police, High Commissioner Ibu Sri Rumiati, had spoken out against the practice. 

“This test should not be done if the goal is to test a female recruit’s virginity,” she said. “If a woman is not a virgin, her capacity to work is not affected. Police as the law enforcement must comply with existing laws.”

The test is a breach of the country’s 1945 Constitution under Article 28D that stipulates  every person has the right to security, to work and receive rewards and fair treatment, and be treated with decency in employment.

Further, Human Rights Watch pointed out the tests were a breach of international law, particularly under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that prohibited “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.

Andreas said that the first known case of virginity testing in Indonesia occurred in 1965.

By 2010, the National Police’s Brigadier-General Sigit Sudarmanto had banned it. However, the Indonesian Police’s official website indicated that this instruction has not been adhered to. 

On November 5, 2014, the Indonesian National Police registration webpage stated: “In addition to medical and physical tests, women who want to become a police officer must undergo a virginity test, so all women intending to enter the force should keep their virginity.” Married women do not qualify for the job. 

“Virginity testing is about patriarchal ideology,” said Andreas, adding that it does not constitute any part of the religion of Islam in the Muslim-majority country. “Patriarchal ideology often uses religion, including by certain Muslim figures here, to justify their control over women bodies including their vaginas.”

The “two-finger” tests were endorsed by other institutions in the archipelago. Last year a plan to introduce the tests in a school in Prabumulih in South Sumatra sparked an outcry. 

Andreas said that while his group had not researched to determine if the practice occurred in the military, “A senior Cabinet member in charge of defense said that the military also does this. Admiral Tedjo Eddi said it is done according to their ‘needs’.”

The test had been documented across a number of countries, Human Rights Watch said. In late 2011, several female protesters in Egypt who had been arrested said that a military doctor forced them to undertake a virginity test. 

In Afghanistan, authorities were known to regularly subject women and girls accused of “moral crimes”, such as “running away” and zina (consensual sex outside of marriage), to “virginity tests”.