Until women have full bodily autonomy all across the world, we must not stop raising questions even if they seem controversial to certain cultures. And now even the doctors within these cultures are starting to raise their eyebrows at what seems to be an unnecessarily invasive and medically unwarranted examination.
Doctors in Iraq are beginning to question court-ordered “virginity tests” that are performed in Iraq the day after a marriage in which a woman is checked to see that her hymen is still intact. Well, only if her husband has his suspicions. Interestingly enough, virginity testing is also performed to cover up male sexual dysfunction, like impotence, according to Dr. Munjid Al Rezali, the director of the Medical Legal Institute (MLI), where the virginity tests take place.
In fact, several virginity tests are performed every day at the MLI in Baghdad. These deplorable examinations take place in a windowless room that contains a black table with leg stirrups. A white scope on a wheeled stand and a bright white light, also on wheels, appears near the end of the table, as well.
Dr. Munjid Al Rezali states that, “The husband claim that she is not a virgin, and then the family bring her here, through the courts, this all has to come through the courts, and we examine her. This is not uncommon, we are seeing a lot.”
Even though a hymen can break during many other non-sexual activities, blood is expected on a girl’s wedding night. If there is no blood (and there may not be even if her hymen is intact) the woman is considered sexually active and therefore shamed by her family and village.
Dr. Rezali addes, “This belief indicates that sex education and knowledge is very poor.”
Many times, these virginity tests can lead to “honor killings” by her own male family members, in which the woman is put to death due to shaming her family.
Three doctors (at least one being a female) examine each “questionable” woman for 15-30 minutes. If the results prove that she was not a virgin, there is no one, and no law, to protect her from her fate. Her family is expected to compensate the groom for any gifts, either monetary or material, given to the unclean woman during their courtship.
The doctors at MLI are beginning to take issue with the nature of the law, themselves, and explain that sexual education is Iraq is subpar at best. They state that even though they have to remain impartial, they sympathize with the women’s predicaments.
The Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi Women’s Association and Amnesty International are doing their best to end this barbaric treatment of women, stating that it is both ineffective and inhumane. The MLI believes that this is a better alternative than what used to happen to women who didn’t bleed on their wedding night: Their husbands would just kill them immediately. Now, at least, he has to take this to court.
Marianne Mollmann, senior policy adviser for Amnesty International states, “The issue of virginity testing, and forced virginity testing and sort of legal virginity tests in court proceedings or in other ways, violate a whole host of human rights and are just not justifiable.”
Liesl Gerntholz, the director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch adds, “The Iraqi government should urgently put measures in place to ensure that women and girls are not forced to undergo physical examinations that are degrading, painful and frightening.”
Can you imagine being wed to a man you may or may not have wanted to marry, only to be subjected to an unnecessary and shameful examination the following day after your wedding night, in which you are probed and prodded like a piece of meat? All of this to prove that you were a virgin when married, and if you are “proven” to not have a hymen in tact, you are possibly sentenced to death? No woman should ever be put through this kind of physical or mental torture, whether or not she was a virgin on her wedding night.
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