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 hymens are 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 strongly 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." 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.

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