On Sunday, a human rights group voiced its strong condemnation of Indonesia for subjecting female police officers to "virginity tests." In what the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report called a "discriminatory and degrading" practice, policewomen and those aspiring to the occupation are forced to undergo these "cruel" tests as part of the applicants' physical exam.
Supposedly banned four years ago, HRW reported that interviews with women in six major cities revealed that such tests were still taking place, and virginity is listed as a requirement for female applicants on the official police recruitment website — seriously, under the subheading "virginity tests" there are pictures of a woman in a police uniform striking a cutesy pose, and it says, "Women who want to register to be a policewoman should keep her virginity." What?
Though the report said that those who "failed" the test weren't necessarily rejected or expelled from Indonesia's National Police force, all those interviewed said that the test was both painful and traumatic. HRW's associate women's rights director, Nisha Varia, said that the test is both discriminatory and humiliating for women, adding,
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.
The test, as described by those interviewed, is a "two-finger test." The women describe being brought into a hall in groups and asked to strip down. One told the human rights group that the selection committee told applicants just before the "internal examination" — as they called it — that they could leave if they refused to go through the test, and said:
Most of us had gone through so much preparation for the requirements [to apply to be a policewoman]. I felt I had no power to object because if I refused to undergo the virginity test, I would not be able to enter the police force.
The practice goes against the National Police's principles of recruitment — that it must be both “nondiscriminatory” and “humane." The report also states that it violates international human rights to equality, nondiscrimination, and privacy. The country's police force is in the midst of a push to increase the number of female police officers. According to HRW, by December, the force plans to up the percentage of women from 3 percent to 5 percent, or 21,000. Married women are not allowed to join the police force.
In response, police spokesperson Roni Sompie said that all recruits were subject to thorough medical examinations that included the examination of genitalia — and women weren't specifically being targeted. After defending the medical and physical exams as processes that verify the candidates' health and physical conditions, Sompie added:
As to the examination of the virginity, it is just a part of the whole medical and physical test, not intended to solely seek for the virginity condition. Or it can not be put in a perspective for the sake of finding out the virginity, instead, it is for the sake of the completeness of medical and physical examination
That statement clearly misses the point — such tests, whether, as Sompie said, to "complete" the medical and physical exam or not, is a violation of both these women's bodies and their human rights, on the basis of it being "subjective and unscientific," said the report.
One policewoman turned police psychologist told HRW that her professional opposition to the practice went unheeded. Her colleagues — some of whom worked for the Medical and Health Center, disagreed on moral grounds:
They said, “Do we want to have prostitutes joining the police?”
Sometimes, civilization takes a giant step backward when we learn that these archaic practices still take place. A woman's worth is no longer measured by her chastity — as it never should have been — and it's also an extremely impractical and inefficient requirement for recruitment. As Varia so succinctly put it:
So-called virginity tests are discriminatory and a form of gender-based violence – not a measure of women’s eligibility for a career in the police. This pernicious practice not only keeps able women out of the police, but deprives all Indonesians of a police force with the most genuinely qualified officers.
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