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.
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