UNITED KINGDOM: Virginity testing, where women are examined to see if their hymen is intact, is set to be outlawed in England and Wales. At the same time, so-called “virginity repair” surgeries claiming to repair the hymen at U.K. clinics will not be banned under the new measures.
The government’s decision to ban virginity tests is a “false victory” as it does not prohibit hymenoplasty surgery, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has warned.
Medical experts say hymenoplasty surgery, restoring a layer of the membrane at the entrance to the vagina to create the illusion of an unbroken hymen, is intrusive, abusive and unscientific. Such procedures can also cause women’s bodies to become infected.
Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, recently brought in a clause to the Health and Care Bill that strives to ban so-called virginity tests.
Under the proposals, doctors or midwives carrying out the gruesome procedure could face imprisonment.
Some fear criminalising the procedures may drive them underground, however.
The RCOG claims efforts to ban virginity testing will be undermined if procedures that “repair or reconstruct” the hymen are not also made illegal.
Dr Edward Morris, the RCOG president, said: “We believe both procedures should be banned in the UK. Neither have any medical benefit and both are harmful practices that create and exacerbate social, cultural and political beliefs that attach a false value to women and girls in relation to their sexual history.”
“A ban on virginity testing is undermined without a ban on hymenoplasty, as the two practices are inextricably linked.”
He noted women getting such procedures are often in highly “vulnerable and desperate situations” as he called for healthcare professionals who are approached about virginity testing or hymenoplasty to adhere to “appropriate safeguarding protocols”.
“To ensure women are able to connect with organisations that can offer support,” Morris added. “This should include referring women to the police or social services if there is a perceived risk of violence or coercion.”
Virginity – a sham indicator of purity
The hymen is a membrane with relatively few blood vessels and, according to the RCOG, studies have found that bleeding is not routinely observed after first vaginal intercourse. The World Health Organisation says the practice is also a sham because the hymen can rip for a number of reasons such as using a tampon or doing exercise, besides virginity testing is a violation of human rights.
Diana Nammi, executive director at Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), said hymenoplasty is a form of violence against women and girls and a harmful practice that can enable forced marriages.
Presenting a girl as a virgin for marriage is seen as a symbol of purity in many communities, but hymenoplasty seems like the answer to a problem which in the first place shouldn’t be seen as one.
“If a girl doesn’t bleed on her wedding night, which hymenoplasty doesn’t guarantee, she will be at even greater risk from honour-based abuse,” said Nammi.
Freedom charity founder Aneeta Prem, who has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Sajid Javid about outlawing this “abhorrent, abusive practise”, has noticed a rise in calls for help from girls and women from South Asian backgrounds, many complaining they had been forced to take tests before arranged marriages.
“We found that grooms’ families are not only asking for a picture of the prospective bride, her education attainments, but also a certificate to say she is a virgin,” she said.