Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Indonesia should stop "virginity tests" for female police recruits

Glaring double standards around the world fuel inequality, and women -- like other historically discriminated groups -- bear the brunt. A report that female police recruits in Indonesia face forced "virginity tests" adds to the long list of degrading, invasive and discriminatory treatment faced by women and girls around the world.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on its website on 18 November 2014 that takes the Indonesian government to task for subjecting female police recruits to "virginity tests". According to HRW, the practice - designed to determine whether female applicant's hymens are intact - is discriminatory and degrading. The human rights group points out in the report that although applicants who "failed" the test were not necessarily expelled from the force, all the women interviewed for the report described the test as painful and traumatic.

I'm of the view that subjecting female police recruits to "virginity tests" is a discriminatory violation of privacy and other international human rights, including freedom from degrading treatment. The practice, which was brought to my attention by a CNN news report, is discriminatory because it targets only women. Male recruits are not subjected to any form of "virginity test". All recruits should be treated equally, irrespective of sex, gender, creed or other grounds.

Besides violating basic anti-discrimination standards, "virginity tests", in my view, violate privacy and humiliate female recruits unnecessarily. Hymens don't get police work done. To put it bluntly: a woman's hymen has no impact on her ability to do police work. Recruiters therefore have no sensible interest in knowing whether or not a female police recruit's hymen is intact. I believe virgins - male or female - don't necessarily make better police officers. Tests to establish virginity are therefore unnecessary and shouldn't be part of medical examinations intended to determine medical fitness for a job.

If there's scientific evidence, which I strong don't think there's any, that virgins do a better job as police officers, all applicants - male and female - should be tested. But again, as stated by HRW in its report, "virginity tests" have been recognized under international law as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

One retired police officer told HRW that her class of female recruits in 1965 were subjected to virginity testing. This shows that the practice is, in my opinion, a relic of an archaic era when it was fashionable to subject women to degrading treatment in a bid to discourage them from taking up certain jobs.

The government of Indonesia, which is party to international conventions like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) that prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, should abolish "virginity tests" for female police recruits. The country is also party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it ratified way back in 1984. It follows that the government has an obligation under international law to terminate all discriminatory practices that target women.

Female police recruits told HRW that the degrading, invasive test, which is administered with two fingers, is scary, upsetting, humiliating, painful and traumatic. Such a practice, I think, has the potential of discouraging women from serving in the police force. If discouraging women from joining the force isn't the intention of the government of Indonesia, the practice should be stopped.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bleak, intolerant future for immigrants in Finland?

There's a feeling among some immigrants in Finland that despite numerous social difficulties they face there's hope for the future -- as young Finns are perceived to be more tolerant and likely to usher in a more inclusive society in the future. Studies however suggest a bleak future of racial intolerance in Finland.

Speaking at the Central Finland Future Forum conference, Sakari Suutarinen, an associate professor from the University of Jyväskylä, said, according to Yle, that an international comparison of 38 countries found that Finnish boys held the most intolerant views towards immigrants. The associate professor reportedly added that anti-immigration feelings among young people in Finland has hardened since the turn of the millennium. He criticized schools for not doing enough to get Finnish youngsters to openly discuss social and religious issues, and for separating Muslim and Christian students into separate religious studies classes. He urged schools to do more to encourage understanding.

Let me be clear: young people are the future. And studies showing the spread of racial intolerance among young people suggest a racist future.

In my view, growing racial intolerance is bad news for Finland. Young people normally represent hope -- hope for a more free, inclusive and advanced society that understands that hate begets hate, endangers everyone including the perpetrator, and inequality stunts economic growth by limiting the potential of a group of people. The toxic relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is a perfect example of how intolerance and domination of one by another puts both parties in harm's way.

The simple reality, which might be bitter for some to swallow, is that immigration cannot be stopped. There'll always be movement of people from one place to another. Intolerance cannot stop the trend. "Blind nationalists" should get off their high horse and realize that racism and intolerance might adversely affect some migrants, but for the most part it destroys the country they claim to protect.

Immigration and immigrants are here to stay, and many of them are hardworking and ready to contribute to the betterment of their host country. They should be given an opportunity to do so.

I believe, the future for immigrants and other minority groups in Finland is not bleak. Like many people, I share the view that racism is taught. Therefore, if racial intolerance is spreading among Finnish youth than youth in other countries it means, in my view, that racial intolerance is taught or learned more in Finland.

The good news is that if people can learn how to be intolerant they can learn how to be tolerant.

Besides, racially intolerant Finnish youth are a minority. At the Central Finland Future Forum conference, associate professor Suutarinen said in studies of school attainment, over 2 percent of young people in Finland said they are critical of immigrants and their rights. Although according to Suutarinen the 2 percent represents a sharp increase since the year 2000, I think it's still a very small percentage of Finnish young people.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Women should know and assert their rights -- like men

A lot of work has gone into empowering women and exposing them to basic freedoms and liberties that they were once denied; freedoms and liberties that men enjoy without question. But there're people, including some women who still think women shouldn't know or assert their rights.

There's a video (in pidgin) circulating on Facebook that ridicules women's rights, and suggests amongst other things that men living abroad travel to Africa to marry women out of pity. The video titled "I know my rights issue... married women watch out!!!" slams women who start asserting their rights the moment they are taken abroad by their husbands. According to the author of the video -- who happens to be a woman -- women who claim "I know my rights" will get in trouble. She slams women who refuse to do strenuous work, refuse to give birth to children or clean the house. The author goes on to encourage men to take such women back to their country of origin and seize their passports.


The video has been widely shared on Facebook, and the views expressed in it seem to have a lot of support from men and women alike, mostly Africans. But as an African man, I am not buying the video despite the fact that it puts African men on a pedestal.

In my view, the video is insulting to women and represents a setback in the struggle for women's empowerment. There're a host of reasons why African men living abroad travel to Africa to marry. Pity is not one of them. The massive number of thumbs up the video enjoys, despite its loud and condescending tone, is an indication that there's still a lot of work to be done in the fight against the subjugation of women.

It's socially irresponsible to condemn women who claim their rights. Even more irresponsible is advocating something as illegal as the seizure of women's passports by men. Passport seizure is a sinister tactic employed by perpetrators of despicable international crimes such as human trafficking. It shouldn't be advocated. Criminal passport seizures are designed to abuse and control victims by violating their right to free movement. No man has the legal authority to take his wife for "vacation" abroad and seize her passport in order to stop her from returning.

No woman, in my view, should be forced to answer "yes sir" to a man and spend the rest of her life in a subjugated and unhappy state simply because he helped her move to Europe or the United States. In the same vein, no man should live in subjugation for the same reason. I'm not advocating violation of matrimonial vows per se. I advocate mutual respect of rights and freedoms, including freedom to terminate a relationship.

Women's rights is considered a foreign issue in many developing communities, especially among men. This, in my view, explains why many African men support the views expressed in the video in question. Although many men commonly point to culture to justify the treatment of women, the truth is that men kick against women's rights simply because it's in their interest to do so. Culture is just a cover story. Many cultures that diminish the status of women, including cultures that promulgate acts like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are hinged on patriarchal customary practices that place men above women. Such cultures, in my perspective, are repugnant and worthy of repeal.

Some progress has been made in the battle for women's rights and gender equality. But there's still a lot of work to be done. There're still too many people (women included) who think, erroneously of course, that a woman shouldn't have a say, a woman must clean the house and a woman must have babies --  because that's what the man wants. Very few consider what the woman wants.

There're still communities where women are denied basic rights such as the right to education. Boys are sent to school while girls stay at home and take care of domestic chores or forced into early marriage. Women in some areas can't inherit property. According to the Wall Street Journal, for instance, the government of India amended the Asian country's Inheritance Laws in 2005 to allow women inherit their parent's property, but the law seems to be having little impact -- as a survey found that just one in eight women whose parents own land inherit any of it.

Women should know and assert their rights. We -- men on our part need to man up and stop seeing women who know their rights as threats to the delusional authority bestowed on us by society simply because we're men. Women are not a threat. They're just like many of us who know our privileges, and assert them -- sometimes to the detriment of women.

There're a good number of women across cultures who give up some of their rights in order to save their relationships. Few men, if any, do. It should be a matter of choice. Hence women who chose not to do so shouldn't be ridiculed.

It was Nelson Mandela who said, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another." Although Mandela spoke in relation to racial discrimination his aforementioned words are relevant in the battle against all forms of discrimination and oppression, including inequality faced by women and girls.

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