Indonesian women applicants who underwent the mandatory ‘virginity testing’ for the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police over the years are now speaking out about their experience.
Invasive tests: The practice, which involved inserting two fingers into the vagina, was described as “painful,” “uncomfortable” and “degrading” by the women who were subjected to it, reported Jakarta Post.
- Starting in 1965, in the guise of a “health assessment,” the invasive test merely determined whether the women previously had sex or not.
- For decades, local activists and international groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have called for its abolition.
- Male applicants also had to go through a similar test, but it was to check reproductive health and was not as invasive as the women’s test. “If ‘virginity’ was the criterion that the state was searching for, it was unfair given what male applicants went through,“ said 27-year-old Uci, who joined the National Police in 2014. “There is no biological sign that verifies a man’s virginity.”
- Lintang, her real name withheld, enrolled in a police academy when she was 18. She said the female doctor conducting her exam scolded her after sensing her uneasiness, telling her they were lucky it was not a male doctor doing it to them.
- “It was as if being examined by a doctor of the same sex was supposed to invalidate the uneasiness,” Lintang was quoted as saying.
- Lintang, who ended up failing the running test that came after the virginity exam, noted that “it felt like I went through something traumatic for nothing.”
- According to both Lintang and Uci, having female doctors and nurses perform the tests on them did not alleviate the pain nor shame.
- Fiancées of servicemen also undergo a similar test, and according to 32-year-old Jesslyn, who was also using a fake name, she felt “definitely uncomfortable and hurt” during the process. She took the “virginity test” due to her fiancé, now her husband, being the son of a high-ranking officer, so her being a virgin before she got married was very important to people.
- “From laying down to sitting straight up, it hurts a lot,” she revealed. “Some of my friends who also went through that procedure complained about not being able to walk. It was just really painful to walk for the first 15 minutes.”
Ending a systemic nightmare: While the police ceased the examinations when HRW first brought it to international attention in 2014, the military continued the practice until earlier this month, when Gen. Andika Perkasa announced its abolishment in the TNI. The women who were subjected to the tests welcomed the development.
- “I was so happy to hear it,” Lintang said. “No more women candidates will need to go through that humiliating process ever again.”
- Jesslyn said she’s just happy that women would no longer be judged solely by their hymen.
- The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) urged civil society groups and state agencies to monitor the new policy’s enforcement.
- HRW expressed similar caution: “It is now the responsibility of territorial and battalion commanders to follow orders and recognize the unscientific, rights-abusing nature of this practice. Increased pressure also needs to be focused on the top commanders of the navy and the air force to follow the army’s lead and end this practice.”
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