Indonesia’s practice of conducting virginity tests on women seeking to join its military forces was condemned Wednesday by human rights activists, who called it "cruel, inhuman and degrading.” International group Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the practice, calling for President Joko Widodo to abolish the tests.
The examination is normally conducted through a “two-finger test” to check if the hymen is intact, and is compulsory for all women planning to join the armed forces or marry military officers.
“The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ on women recruits does nothing to strengthen national security,” Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at HRW, said in a statement. “President Joko Widodo should set the military straight and immediately abolish the requirement and prevent all military hospitals from administering it.”
HRW said that women who had undergone the procedure found it “painful, embarrassing, and traumatic,” citing interviews with women who had been subjected to the test.
"I felt humiliated. It was very tense," one candidate tested in 2013 told HRW. "It’s against the rights of every woman."
Military spokesman Fuad Basya defended the tests. Women with loose morals could "damage the military," he told Agence France-Presse. “They are responsible for the country's sovereignty, the unity of the territory, the safety of the nation."
HRW said the practice had been going on for decades, but could not pin down exactly when it began.
“They are conducted in the army, the navy and the air force. Human Rights Watch interviewed a military wife who undertook the test in 1964 while her older sister did that in 1962. It means it's been going on for decades. But it's still unclear when this practice began,” HRW researcher Andreas Harsono told Deutsche Welle.
The report was released ahead of a meeting of the International Committee of Military Medicine in Bali next week. HRW called on the members of the committee to push for a ban on the virginity tests.