Virginity Tests for Civil Service Applicants in Indonesia

When applying for a job as a police officer, you might expect to have to meet certain educational, physical, and mental health requirements.  But what if I told you that in Indonesia, you can be rejected for a civil service job because you are not a virgin?  Or because you are married?  And what if I told you you can only be rejected for these reasons if you are a woman?

Women who are not virgins, and married women are ineligible to become part of Indonesia’s National Police Force.  I know, it sounds archaic.  I checked the date on the research multiple times because I couldn’t believe it myself.

Viriginity tests Shattering the ceiling

According to Human Rights watch, the Indonesian government subjects female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to virginity tests, a state practice that dates back to at least 1965.  The “virginity tests” are conducted under Chief Police Regulation No. 5/2009 on Health Inspection Guidelines for Police Candidates.  Article 36 of the regulation requires female police academy applicants to undergo an “obstetrics and gynecology” examination. While virginity tests are not specified as part of the exam, it has become a common practice as part of the applicants’ physical exam conducted by the Police Medical and Health Center in police-operated hospitals.  The virginity test, known as the “two finger test,” entails inserting two fingers into a women’s vagina to see if a woman’s hymen is intact.   Those that have undergone the test describe it as painful and traumatic.

Policewomen have raised the issue with their superiors, who claim the practice has been discontinued, yet the test is posted as a requirement for women applicants on the official police recruitment website.   Indonesia’s National Police jobs website states, as of November 5, 2014, that, “In addition to the medical and physical tests, women who want to be policewomen must also undergo virginity tests.  So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity.” This test clearly does not comport with National Police principles that recruitment must be both “nondiscriminatory” and “humane.”   Men do not have to undergo any such parallel test, which begs the question of how one’s ability to perform as a police officer is related to one’s virginal or marital status, as married women are ineligible to apply.

This archaic and discredited practice is based on the mistaken assumption that the hymen (named from Hymen, the Greek god of marriage) can only be torn as a result of sexual intercourse.  Some women are born without hymens; some hymens are not separated even after sex while others are separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; some are broken from rape; and some are separated for no apparent reason.  More important than the false science on which it is based, this practice is predicated upon is the perpetuation of gender discrimination that determines a woman’s value based on her sexual history.  This practice tells society that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is acceptable for men, but not for women.  And once you are married, you then have no place in the civil service workforce.  It strips away women’s privacy and condones the idea that women’s sexual activity should be subject to public knowledge and scrutiny, while men’s should not.

Fortunately, there is hope for these women due to the great work of Human Rights Watch, which recently brought the issue to light when they conducted interviews of current and former policewomen and applicants between May and October 2014.  Nisha Varia, associate women’s rights director, explains,

“The Indonesian National Police’s use of ‘virginity tests’ is a discriminatory practice that harms and humiliates women. Police authorities in Jakarta need to immediately and unequivocally abolish the test, and then make certain that all police recruiting stations nationwide stop administering it.”

Indonesia claims that they will stop this testing as an admission requirement for civil servants.  While ending such testing is a step in the right direction, the underlying prejudice behind the test is still prevalent.  For example, a municipal government in east Java recently attempted to pass a requirement that female high school students to pass a virginity test before they could receive their diploma.  More work needs to be done to uproot the belief that women’s value is determined by her marital and virginal status.  The answer may lie in changes already underway.  Having women enter the workforce in greater numbers, as Indonesia aims to do, and allowing them to obtain roles of leadership, will help Indonesia begin to root out discriminatory practices.

Marissa Abraham

Marissa Abraham is a former contributor to Shattering the Ceiling.

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