Many sources are reporting outrage over Indonesia’s “Two Finger” test for women, who are required to prove they are virgins before joining the police force. The China Daily and The Singapore Straits Times have condemned these types of tests. This happened after Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently published a report calling on Indonesia to end these invasive tests. Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy director of the Asia Division, told msnbc. “Women have been too ashamed or traumatized to talk about it for decades.”
The test is considered a “health check.” A health official inserts two fingers to make sure the hymen of the female is still intact. Applicants have to strip down and submit to these tests without question.
Police spokesman Ronny Sompie said the “comprehensive health test” is for all applicants, in order to make sure candidates were free of sexually transmitted diseases. He said that a women who were not virgins could still apply. However, HRW said a post on the police website indicated that female applicants must be virgins. Currently, women make up about 3% of the 400,000 officers in the force and there have been talks to try and increase that percentage to 5% by the end of December.
Moreover, this test does not adequately determine whether a female is still a virgin. Women have torn their hymens for other reasons. Some have reported that hymens can tear from intense physical activity or even from riding a bicycle. Therefore, many women could be discredited without actually engaging in any sexual activity.
This issue appears to be a clash of cultures in trying to apply moral values that end up discriminating women and keep them out of the workforce. Augusto Lopez-Carlos Director of the Global Indicators and Analysis Department at the World Bank, spoke at the Penn International Development Conference about how discriminatory laws affect women. He stated that laws like this do inhibit women from entering the labor force, and inhibit growth and opportunity in many countries. It seems counter-intuitive that the government requires this test while also stating that they plan to increase female police applicants in order to better address femicide and sex crimes.
Education could bring awareness to the discriminatory nature of this test. Sex education could help dispel the myth that a woman is a virgin by using a “two-finger virginity test.” In addition, educators should teach both genders about separating sex from human capital. A female’s sexual activity is not tied to her capabilities as a police officer, as this test infers. If officials want to better address sex crimes, they need to reexamine how this test could prevent females from joining the force.
Last year, hundreds of students were trained by Planned Parenthood in Yogyakarta, a province with one of the country’s most progressive reproductive rights communities. These students called on the province officials to include sex education in school.
Andreas Nugahita, a student and workshop attendee stated,“The more people understand, the more they can take responsibility for their own sexual behavior. That could change teenagers’ attitudes toward sex all across Indonesia.”
However, considering the cultural context in Indonesia, changing legislation to abolish the virginity test or to include sex education could be difficult.“We have this conservative point of view because, for generations, sex has been seen as a bad thing.” said Dyana Savina Hutadjulu, a program officer at Hivos, a global development agency helping to coordinate the effort.
Addressing the youth is important, but in order to abolish the “virginity test”, the Health Minister should take a stand as well. Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, a physician who promoted sex education outreach in the past, was appointed as Indonesia’s health minister in 2013. He has not commented yet, but if he did this could help, considering he is a doctor and has advocated for sexual health awareness. Hopefully, Dr. Mboi and others can add their input to hopefully put an end to this test and create better gender equity within Indonesia’s police force.
USAID, (The United States Agency for International Development) pledged $216 million to fund a major women’s empowerment program in Afghanistan. This is the largest women’s empowerment project in US government’s history. Newly-elected President Ghani has reaffirmed his commitment to invest in girls’ education, claiming that educating a girl will have it’s impact on the coming five generations. The funds will be spent through Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which aims to advance the opportunities for Afghan women so they can become leaders in the political, private and civil society sectors. The main goal of the Promote program is to strengthen Afghanistan’s development by boosting female participation in the economy, supporting women’s rights groups, helping women gain business and management skills and increasing the number of women in the decision making positions within the Afghan government.
President Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, has been outspoken about her commitment to promote greater respect for women and advance women’s rights. As the country’s First Lady, Ms. Ghani’s role in expanding and supporting women’s rights represents both a threat and an asset for Afghan society. The mere fact that Rula Ghani is an American-Lebanese Christian poses serious opposition in a greatly conservative and Muslim society.
“This will be a first for Afghanistan that the first lady is seen in public and this can have a very positive effect on women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a women’s rights advocate and member of Afghan parliament. “This is a male dominated society and a strong woman like her in the palace will make a huge difference. As an Afghan woman, I will be thrilled to see this great woman standing with our new president and advocate for women.”
However, this view is considered too progressive and it’s not shared by a great number of Afghans. According to Mawlawi Habibullah Hussam, an important religious scholar and imam in Kabul, Ms. Ghani’s public presence “can be fatal for the faith of Muslims in Afghanistan.”
A former member of Kabul’s provincial council and conservative who counts with a large following added: “The incoming first lady is not qualified … as she is a non-Muslim so she does not meet [Muslim] piety requirements… She is a foreigner so cannot be the confidant of a Muslim ruler. This is a very serious issue.”
Does Ms. Ghani represent a brighter future for Afghan women? There is a lot of speculation from both advocates and opponents within and outside the country in terms of her power as First Lady to push for girls’ education and gender equality. Former president Karsai’s wife, Zeenat Karzai, was also a well-educated woman, and a doctor by profession, but she never appeared in public with her husband nor worked in support of Afghan women. Ms. Ghani stands as a symbol of hope for many Afghan women who desire a better future for themselves. In the words of an Afghan writer, Asma, women in Afghanistan want Ms. Ghani to be more than a symbol: “Our new First Lady can prove this by showing her face, by asking Afghan women about their difficulties, and by becoming a public figure actively working for women’s rights.”
Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women in Afghanistan still face serious issues. In a country that has been described by many organizations as one of the worst places for women worldwide, the challenges ahead are substantial. Child marriage, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, isolation, discrimination, sexual abuse and lack of judicial protection are just some of the many issues that women face daily in Afghanistan.
These inequalities within the society are deeply ingrained in religious dogma. Sharia Law heavily discriminates, punishes and treats women as inferior. In my first post, I raised the question of the role of religion in morality. I dare to raise the question again: up to what point is it acceptable to justify and defend religion when it so evidently discriminates and punishes women? Why do we accept this as normal or justify it by attributing it to a “cultural identity”?
I respect freedom of religion and I do believe that we should all be free to choose the path that makes us better human beings without harming anyone along the way. But how can a path that oppresses, penalizes, is prejudiced and violent against women ever be considered acceptable? I raise my voice against this injustice.
I truly hope that the Promote program is successful in giving a voice to the women in Afghanistan. Their focus is on women’s leadership, women’s participation in government and the economy and women’s rights groups and coalitions. If Rula Ghani wants a brighter future for Afghanistan’s women, she will work together with Promote and be an active advocate for women’s education, empowerment, and equality, and serve as an example for the millions of voices who are desperately crying for change.
The government of Ghana joined an Advocacy Campaign on Girls’ Education and Maternal Health in Accra, which is the capital and largest city of Ghana. The campaign is part of a United Nations (UN) project aimed at raising the awareness of mothers’ mortality rate during pregnancy and delivery as well as girls’ access to education.
In the first part of the campaign, improving maternal health is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are eight goals for international development. According to Girmay Haile, who is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Director, about 3,100 Ghanaian mothers (380 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013 due to postpartum haemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and abortion sepsis (Graphic Online). Although the maternal mortality ratio in Ghana is decreasing annually, it remains a major issue because aforementioned causes of maternal death are preventable. Under the slogan of “No Woman Should Die Giving Life”, the government and organization officials have a plan to train maternal health service providers to facilitate skilled and safer delivery of babies. However, going beyond the role of conveying knowledge, the government, local communities, and external agencies have to consistently improve the healthcare system and expand benefits of medical treatments.
During the second part of the campaign, girls’ education is also included in the MDGs in that their education can promote gender equality. Rushnan Murtaza, who is the Deputy Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), focused on enhancement of the transition from primary to secondary education as well as on the increase of access to education (AllAfrica). Under the slogan of “Empowering Girls for a Stronger Ghana,” the government introduces girls to the stories of successful female athletes, organizes girls’ clubs that stress on the topic of teenage pregnancy, and provides girls with sanitary pads against social and physical barriers related to menstrual management. Through these activities, the implementors of the program are looking forward to inspiring girls to enroll and stay in school. The active participation of girls is important for their education. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to continue girls’ education without the favorable atmosphere of society as a whole.
The Advocacy Campaign on Girls’ Education and Maternal Health seems to be a pivotal starting point for empowering women of Ghana. However, is the launch of the campaign sufficient enough to counter the ingrained factors that lead to maternal mortality and unsustainable girls’ education? In the initial stage of the project, the contributors and assistants should provide a more specific action guides combined with feasible plans that are suitable within the local context and not focus on immediate results solely for the attainment of the goal. Furthermore, teachers, parents, men, and the whole community should exert effort to support and encourage women altogether.
Can legally defining crimes against women help deter violence against them? It might be a good start. Following in the footsteps of many other countries in the Americas, Colombia is taking steps to set guidelines to prosecute these types of homicides. In late September of 2014, members of congress proposed a bill to define femicide, which is the murder of a woman by a man based on her gender. Of the 637 women killed in Colombia so far in this year alone, 83 were considered femicides – government figures show.
To gain more attention to the issue, just last week, the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Tracey Robinson, unexpectedly came to Colombia to bring light to the issue that crimes committed against women continue to remain in exemption. Her visit came as a surprise but that was her intention.
“In an interview with El Pais newspaper, Robinson said the surprise visit was meant to be just that. “That was the point. Arrive without notice so that more than one person who wouldn’t dare to tell their case because they didn’t know how to do so could do so. This is the opportunity of the IACHR to know up close the situation of afro-colombian women and the LGBTI community,” Robinson told El Pais.”
Femicide is a widespread problem in Latin America, and more than half the countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Americas. Crimes against women are pervasive and have not been well documented in the past, and this new classification hopes to draw more attention to this issue.
Within this issue lies the assumption that defining these crimes will bring awareness to the problem and bring justice to victims. These crimes have gone mostly unnoticed in the past which may be a reason why this new bill might deter potential criminals from committing these acts. Furthermore, The definition of femicide itself is relatively new, and has not been formally used in political discourse in the Americas until the past decade, which may be due to gender changes in the political landscape of not only Colombia, but other countries in Latin America as well.
Female policy makers were behind the creation of the bill in Colombia, and this could be in part that women have risen to power in government in the Americas over the past 30 years. Their personal perspective draws attention to female issues policy that have not been addressed before, and there is hope that they will create equity and empowerment for women in the legal system.
There is no definitive way to measure the power of a word, but it’s increased awareness might be a good start to deter femicides throughout the Americas. This push from the international community and from policy makers within countries is a step in trying to reduce crimes against women in general.
Since the bill to define femicide is being proposed by female policy makers, there is hope that crimes against women will hold more weight in the courts, and hopefully deter criminals from committing them.
How do we deal with religious fundamentalism that becomes so deeply ingrained in the cultures of certain parts of the world and affect so negatively the lives of women? This is an issue I have always struggled with: up to what point can we justify or defend religion when it brings about so many negative consequences especially for women? The so-called “Morality Laws” in Sudan are examples of the serious and detrimental effects that laws based on religious moral codes have on women. President al-Bashir has imposed a conservative Islamist ideology since he came to power in the late 80s and incorporated Sharia Law as part of Sudan’s legal system. Anyone who dares to question or challenge the law will be dutifully punished with anything ranging from flogging to the death penalty. Amira Osman Hamed, a civil engineer from Sudan, is campaigning passionately against such laws after being spared of a public flogging because of “indecent dressing” for failing to cover her hair. Ms. Osman is just one of the thousands of female victims who every year face countless punishments for disobeying the law. According to her, in 2012, 70% of the 43,000 cases sent to the public order courts involved women. Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act used to condemn Ms. Osman states the following:
‘(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person’s religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’
It is left to the police and local authorities to decide what constitutes “indecent manner” and “public morals,” which in the case of Sudan clearly draws from Sharia Law.
As the international media reignites an interest in the issues of gender equality, it seems like an appropriate time to address the role of religious morality in education. Where does morality come from? I am hesitant to believe it positively draws from religion, especially when there are stark differences from expected moral behavior between men and women. During the past weeks we’ve been studying the role of colonialism as it pertains to development in class. Religion is one of the big “imports” that former colonies inherited. However, it is often difficult to disentangle religion from culture in places like Sudan where both Islam and Christianity were introduced long ago in the first millenium. External factors by virtue of time and history become internal factors capable of causing destruction, war, and genocide. Sudan’s history is one that particularly shows the complexities of foreign influence, religion, colonialism and internal tribal conflicts. The most pressing problem now is that of Islamic Fundamentalism. I believe that bringing light to this issue is a necessary step before we can continue to discuss gender inequality. We need to support women like Ms. Osman in their struggle to demand equal rights and challenge so-called “morality laws” that are nothing other than misogynist, chauvinistic and sexist.
Amnesty.org.uk,. (2014). Amria Osman Hamed. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.VDHfaEu4klJ BBC News,. (2014). Sudan apostasy woman ‘to campaign’. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29399209
Equalrightstrust.org,. (2014). In Search of Confluence: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Sudan. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.equalrightstrust.org/view-subdocument/index.htm?id=1010 Mutiga, M. (2014). Sudan’s ‘morality’ laws used to punish women, report finds. the Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/02/sudan-morality-laws-women-report
the Guardian,. (2014). Emma Watson’s UN gender equality campaign is an invitation to men, too. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/03/emma-watsons-un-gender-equality-campaign-is-an-invitation-to-men-too