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Indonesia's Military to Keep Controversial Virginity Tests for Women

By Paramita Dewiyani
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Women in the Indonesian Air Force march in a Jakarta parade, April 9, 2007.

Despite criticism from politicians, activists and religious leaders, Indonesia’s military says it will not drop its policy of requiring virginity tests for female recruits and soldiers’ fiancées.

“This regulation is inhumane because it marginalizes and embarrasses women,” Irine Yusiana Roba Putri, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, told reporters Thursday.

“Physical health and mental intelligence are important in the selection of recruits for military duties. Virginity tests have nothing to do with those two things,” she said.

Irine was responding to comments by Gen. Fuad Basya of the Indonesia Armed Forces (TNI) Information Center, who said virginity tests were needed to assess the mental health of female recruits.

“This requirement has been applied in the military for decades and during all that time there have been no incriminating results,” he said, adding that the exam was part of a health test.

“So we will still use virginity tests,” he confirmed to BenarNews.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to end virginity tests for female recruits and the fiancées of male servicemen.

"The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful and humiliating 'virginity tests' on women recruits do nothing to strengthen national security," said Nisha Varia, HRW's women's rights advocacy director, at a press conference in Jakarta.

She said HRW would also bring up the issue at the International Conference of Military Medicine, to be held in Bali on May 17-22.

“We will continue to push for this,” she said.

'There was no choice'

The tests are conducted carefully and with sensitivity, Fuad told BenarNews.

“We understand that the hymen can be broken as a result of an accident or illness. It’s a military doctor who determines [whether a woman is still a virgin],” he said.

Sexual activity is inconsistent with the military’s mission and could be a sign of deviant behavior, he added.

Farida Rakirnata, the wife of a military member, said that her virginity test was a long process that delayed her wedding.

“We can’t go to a regular hospital or clinic. It has to be done in a military hospital,” she told BenarNews.

And while the exam is supposed to be done by a female military doctor, due to the limited number of female doctors at military hospitals, she had to be examined by a male doctor.

“I felt upset about that but there was no choice,” she said.

Farida agreed that such tests were not needed any longer, adding: “A test like that is no guarantee of whether a woman has a good character.”

Potential to spread slander

Halim Subahar, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Jember, an East Java regency, said that while such a test might appear to be in line with Islamic values, it in fact goes against principles of the Quran and Hadith.

“Doesn’t Islam require us to keep our sexuality private? With a test like this, what if the results got that a girl was no longer a virgin? Then you have slander,” he told BenarNews.

An incident like that could be very isolating for an individual, in a society where such issues are very sensitive, he added.

“Could we call that Islamic?” he asked.

He urged the military to reconsider the policy.

“Islam encourages peace for all people, whether men or women,” he said. “Therefore, policies should reflect equal rights,” he said.

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