Indonesian Army Scraps Virginity Testing for Female Recruits

Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2021-08-10
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Indonesian Army Scraps Virginity Testing for Female Recruits Indonesian Gen. Andika Perkasa speaks with his U.S. counterpart, Gen. Charles Flynn, during the opening ceremony for the Garuda Shield 21 joint training exercise at the Combat Training Center in Baturaja, South Sumatra, Aug. 4, 2021.
Antara Foto/Nova Wahyudi/via Reuters

Indonesia’s army chief said Tuesday that the military branch was no longer subjecting female recruits to so-called virginity tests, as he clarified recent remarks implying that the army would drop the practice.

Widely welcomed by activists, the comments put a renewed spotlight on the controversial practice, but it was not immediately clear if the change would take effect in navy and air force recruitment efforts.

“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,” Gen. Andika Perkasa told reporters in Manado, where a joint exercise with U.S. Army personnel was underway.

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, as many types of activity can cause it to stretch or break.

Andika said the decision was taken following an annual review aimed at improving the army’s recruitment system.

“[T]he purpose of improving the selection process is more about health, to avoid fatal incidents such as color blindness, heart problems and incidents during training,” he said.

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. 

Andika said Tuesday that in the past, required health checks for recruits included inspections of internal genitalia.

“Now, there are no more vaginal and cervical examinations, but external examinations are still in place, without involving the special inspections,” he said.

Those checks are to detect sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously said that so-called virginity testing has no scientific merit or clinical indication.

“The appearance of a hymen is not a reliable indication of intercourse, and there is no known examination that can prove a history of vaginal intercourse,” the organization has said.

 

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Military personnel prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccines at the Indonesian Army’s Raider 112 infantry battalion base in Banda Aceh, March 10, 2021. (AFP)

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 doctor, who requested anonymity, said the tests occurred in military hospitals across the country, with female military applicants examined in large halls divided into curtain-separated rooms.

The HRW report said all 20 women interviewed between 2014 and 2015 cried while recounting their experiences.

In 2015, the national police abolished the practice, which typically includes an invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether hymens are intact, according to HRW.

Last week, the chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), Andy Yetriyani, welcome the army chief’s July directive as a positive step.

“We appreciate Andika’s statement, but things like that should be put in writing, to show the seriousness of the Army and the military as a whole,” she told BenarNews at the time.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) told BenarNews last week that the rules for new recruits had not changed.

“A comprehensive medical examination of female TNI candidates includes a hymen examination,” Col. Djawara Whimbo told BenarNews on Friday.

Whimbo dismissed WHO’s finding on the practice.

“WHO has nothing to do with us. We adhere to our eastern values,” he said.

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