It’s Official: Indonesian Army Stops ‘Virginity’ Tests for Women

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2021-09-01
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It’s Official: Indonesian Army Stops ‘Virginity’ Tests for Women Members of the Indonesian Women’s Army Corps prepare for a parade in Aceh province marking the 73rd anniversary of the Indonesian military’s founding, Oct. 5, 2018.
AFP

The Indonesian Army has officially dropped controversial virginity testing for female recruits, the military branch’s health chief said Wednesday.

Changes to the technical guideline for the health assessment of recruits were released on June 13, removing references to hymen examinations, said Maj. Gen. Budiman, head of the Army’s health department.

“The word hymen has been omitted from the physical examination section,” Budiman told an online discussion on the issue, adding that the new directive means male and female recruits to the army’s ranks will be treated equally.

Under the new guideline, medical examinations for female candidates will also be more respectful of privacy, Budiman said.

“Only the examining doctor, who is an ob-gyn, a midwife and the candidate are allowed in the examination room,” Budiman said.

A hymen examination could be performed in some situations, such as when a candidate has a condition where it covers the entire opening of the vagina, resulting in the accumulation of menstrual blood, Budiman said.

Indonesian Navy and Air Force spokesmen said there was no mention of so-called virginity tests in the guideline for medical checks released by the armed forces chief last November.

“There is no virginity test, but there are obstetric and gynecological ones,” Navy spokesman Julius Widjojono told BenarNews. “We abide by the guideline set by the commander.”

Female reproductive health examinations are intended to detect illnesses such as cervical cancer, he said.

A copy of the guideline reviewed by BenarNews mentions gynecologic and Pap tests as part of health checks for female recruits. A Pap test or Pap smear is used to screen women for cervical cancer.  

 “The (gynecological and Pap tests) are designed to detect reproductive health problems that can interfere with basic military education and when they become active soldiers,” Air Force spokesman Indan Gilang Buldansyah told BenarNews.

Last month, Indonesian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Andika Perkasa said his branch of the military was no longer subjecting female recruits to virginity tests.

“The hymen was part of the examination elements to check, for example, whether the hymen is intact, partially ruptured or completely ruptured. Now there is no longer such an examination,” Andika said on Aug. 10.

During a video conference on July 18, Andika told regional commanders that women who sought to enlist in the army must be tested only to determine their ability to follow basic military training – like their male counterparts. 

Women make up about 15 percent of the approximately 800,000 members of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI).

Women’s rights advocates in Indonesia – Southeast Asia’s largest country and the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – welcomed Andika’s comments. They put a renewed spotlight on the practice of hymen examinations.

A ruptured hymen – a membrane inside the vagina – was traditionally thought to indicate sexual activity, a hypothesis that has since been debunked by health authorities including the World Health Organization.

The virginity checks came to light in 2014 when New York-based Human Rights Watch published a report about the Indonesian police carrying out such tests. A year later, HRW published a report on the practice in the Indonesian military.

In its 2015 report, HRW cited a military doctor in Jakarta who said that the test was part of mandatory physical exams and was given early in the recruitment process.

The national police abolished the practice that same year.

Sri Rumiyati, a retired police officer who has campaigned against virginity testing, welcomed the army’s decision.

“If the rule has been written, everyone must comply with it,” she told those attending the online discussion.

Andreas Harsono, a HRW researcher in Indonesia, called the move “a victory for everyone.”

“This is not only a victory for women, but also for men,” Andreas said.

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