By Imane Abou-said
By Imane Abou-said
Ifrane – This week, Egypt attracted all eyes from around the world when Egyptian MP, Elhamy Agina, called upon the Minister of Higher Education to issue a mandate to enhance what is called, “virginity tests.”
According to Agina, a girl willing to enter any Egyptian university should undergo a “virginity test” to prove that she is a “Miss” before being admitted. While the term “Miss” is viewed differently in various cultures, the MP’s statement has made quite a backlash among internet surfers. Unlike the definition of the word “Miss” in English dictionaries, (a title used before a single woman’s last name and who holds no other title), in Arab societies, the term “Miss” is often associated with virginity. In an interview with local media, Agina said that: “Any girl who enters university, has to undergo a medical examination to prove that she is a Miss. Therefore, each girl must present an official document upon being admitted to university stating she’s a Miss.”
The MP has reached a new level of sexism following his statement. As a woman, I cannot find any logical link between virginity and education. A woman’s intimate life is personal and has no relevance to her education. Therefore, it should not interfere with her chances of admission to a university. The Egyptian MP’s request is very degrading toward women. No one should have the right to impose virginity tests on girls unless the girls want to partake in it. I think that the widespread acceptance of this method in Arab and African countries does not mean that it is right or ethical to impose on women. Furthermore, what benefit could this test possibly have?
I cannot help it but see this request as an explicit violation of women’s rights and privacy. Do we not have bigger problems than women’s intimacy in this region? When hearing Agina’s comments, one might think that Egypt has fixed all its problems, and that women’s virginity has become an issue to be discussed in the parliament. The reason that the Egyptian MP has claimed to be behind this suggestion is the fact that “Urfi” marriages have spread in Egypt, especially among young couples. However, this does not justify the government prying into people’s personal lives.
“Urfi” marriages are very common in Egypt. They are viewed by authorities as illegal and inadmissible since the condition in a Muslim marriage is proclamation. “Urfi” marriages are often kept secret and are used as a way to have sex in licit situations. After the serious comments and verbal attacks on the MP, he tried to defend his comments by clarifying that he only made a suggestion and not a demand, which even still is imposing on women’s privacy. For Mr. Agina, his suggestion would be a way to stop the spread of “Urfi” unions between young couples.
The Egyptian MP has made headlines over some other controversial statements as well. A month ago, he asked that women should consider undergoing female mutilation to “reduce their sexual desires” because Egyptian men are “sexually weak.” This kind of statement can only make one wonder, how could a person with this mindset represent people in a parliament? Why would an MP encourage sexism among the people that they serve?
These tests, apart from being highly unethical, can never be conclusive since they are based on the fact that women can only lose their hymen from sexual intercourse. A common way of “checking virginity” is “the two fingers method.” Essentially, a doctor or an older women (trusted ones in tribes) insert their finger in a woman’s vagina to check the vaginal laxity and determine whether that woman is “habituated to sexual intercourses.”
Not only is this test considered by the medical community as a subjective observation, but it indicates that a woman is only valued if her hymen is still intact. This whole practice is based on sexism, considering some women are born without a hymen, and some can lose their hymen without engaging in sexual intercourse. Assuming that this practice is performed for “religious reasons,” calling on women to undergo it gives the impression that having sexual intercourse outside of marriage is acceptable for men but degrading for women. It puts women in the position of being publicly shamed and criticized by the same people who praise men for discovering their sexuality.
In Arab societies, mine included, people tend to marginalize women who chose to lose their virginities and label them as “sluts.” Why? Because they do not have their hymen anymore. These same people turn a blind eye on men who engage in sexual intercourse and forgive them if they chose to discover their sexuality.
In some Moroccan families, when a man chooses to do something that society labels as “bad,” people tend to not judge them; but when a girl does the exact same thing, she would be viewed differently. My point is that our culture and traditions are usually masculine, but that does not mean that we should stop encouraging gender equality. It is true that as a Moroccan, I will not be affected by the Egyptian MP’s comments, but as a woman, I cannot possibly tolerate this practice. Women have been striving to change their situation and liberate themselves from culture barriers, and in my opinion, linking virginity to education is degrading.
The virginity test has been labeled by the international medical community as unreliable since the hymen differs from one woman to another, and can break or remain intact due to various factors. The World Health Organization has confirmed, “There is no place for virginity testing, it has no scientific validity.” I guess it is time for us to see women for who they really are, for their ideas and not for the flesh and tissue inside their vaginal opening. If an MP calls on relating virginity to education, then we must strive even harder for gender equality.
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