Virginity test just doesn't cut it

OVERSIMPLIFIED SYMBOLISM: There has been global criticism of the virginity test for female recruits. The only way to have ethical security forces is by having candidates commit to an agreement governing their future moral standards.


    May 28, 2015

    Virginity test just doesn't cut it

    THE 41st World Congress on Military Medicine that took place on Bali from May 17 to 22 stirred up global denunciation of the virginity test for female recruits of the Indonesian military and police force.

    In defence of the necessity of this invasive test, General Moeldoko, Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, was reported to have responded rhetorically: "So what's the problem? It's a good thing, so why criticise it?"

    This dreadfully "innocent" statement from the top elite - despite harsh international criticism from the general public, along with human and women's rights activists who condemned the test as not only unnecessary and discriminatory, but also harmful, humiliating and traumatising - has shown us that the struggle for gender equality in Indonesia will have to navigate a long and winding road for many years to come.

    As redundant as it may seem, one will have to relentlessly speak about the battle against gender discrimination because there is no other way to confront domination by men who have been absorbed so long in the sexist perspective that they see it as normal.

    However, if the military elite does not bother using some common sense to see how absolutely offensive the virginity test is, I would rather avoid the extra work and present my critique in an equally ignorant way. It is thus pointless to bring such abstract ideas as human rights, discrimination and ethics to the table.

    What I should do instead is reduce myself, submit to the sexist logic and show how fallacious the virginity test is, even when examined from inside the sexist shell.

    To do this, I will first have to force myself to set aside my belief that virginity tests do not at all represent one's morality.

    Furthermore, I will have to force myself to accept the idea that virgin female soldiers are central in Indonesia's national defence strategy.

    From this hypocritical view, too, I will show how the virginity test fails to satisfy even the most basic aspect of its morality-related purposes.

    To begin with, the virginity test merely punishes a woman for her past. To some degree, it may be able to measure if a woman has lost her hymen in a sexual encounter, but it cannot analyse anything beyond that. It cannot even determine whether the incident actually involved voluntarily immoral motives or external force, such as rape and sexual abuse.

    Worse still, the test does not reliably reflect a female recruit's commitment to her future morality once she is a member of the military or police force.

    The only logical way for Indonesia to have an ethical military or police force is by having successful candidates commit to and sign a morality-related agreement that will govern their future moral standards during their service.

    Second, no matter how trivial this may sound, I could not help but point out the most obvious reason why virginity tests will never help Indonesia's military. In most cases, it takes a man for a woman to no longer be a virgin.

    Therefore, if there is no equal procedure to assess the virginity of male recruits, then the very purpose of the virginity test - to measure morality - is rendered near obsolete. Men make up the majority - more than 80 per cent - of our military personnel.

    For this reason, since the military institution is incapable of exactly determining male soldiers' virginity, it is reasonable to say that our national defence is currently at risk.

    Hypocrisy and sexism seem to make a fatal combination. On the table now are two cards that can get us back to common sense.

    The first is to stop being ridiculously low in obsessing with a woman's hymen, in any sense.

    The second is to stop being hypocritical of morality as morality is actually a person's private, personal compass.

    This is why most attempts to measure morality usually end in oversimplified symbolism. We can govern people's behaviour only through ethics, law and its enforcement.


    The writer is a lecturer at University of Jambi. She is pursuing a PhD that focuses on Indonesian Islamic feminism and popular culture at Monash University, Australia.