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Examination table where female virginity tests are carried out (New York Times)


Invasive virginity tests still happening in Afghanistan – despite ban

By WITW Staff on January 8, 2017

Invasive vaginal and rectal examinations continue to be used to support criminal prosecutions and, often, convictions, of women and girls found guilty of  “moral crimes” in Afghanistan. So-called “virginity tests” are carried out by government officials and are intended to ascertain whether a woman or girl accused of premarital sex is a “virgin” and whether she has recently engaged in sexual intercourse.

Setting aside the intrusiveness of this systemic violation of the female body on the part of the Afghanistan government, the practice has no scientific validity, according to the World Health Organization. The procedure is premised on the idea that a woman’s virginity can be determined by whether her hymen has been broken, but such a method is entirely flawed since the state of a woman’s hymen can be completely unrelated to her sexual history. Some women are born without a hymen; some will break theirs through non-sexual, daily activities and some women’s hymens will remain in place after sex.

Under pressure from human rights groups, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani last year pledged to bring an end to the practice. Still, government officials continue to implement the exams as a total of 42 virginity tests were carried out in the first half of 2016 alone.

Heather Barr, a Women in the World contributor and an expert on Afghanistan, from Human Rights Watch has said, “These so-called virginity exams are not just demeaning — they constitute sexual assault … the continued use of degrading and unscientific virginity exams by the Afghan government is part of a broader pattern of abuses in which women and girls are jailed on spurious ‘moral crimes’ accusations, often in situations where they are fleeing forced marriage or domestic violence.”

It has been almost 15 years since the Islamist Taliban regime was ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, and while in some respects Afghanistan has made strides in forwarding women’s rights — 28 percent of Afghanistan’s members of Parliament are, for example, women, ranking it 53rd in the world for representation of women in national parliaments (the U.S. sits at 101!) and a 2009 law rendered violence against women a crime — the day-to-day violation of women’s human rights there persists.

According to Human Rights Watch, almost half of the women incarcerated in Afghanistan and roughly 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention are there for “moral crimes,” like running away from home or participating in sex outside of marriage. However, the organization found that in most of these cases the women were in fact fleeing domestic abuse; child marriage or rape.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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