‘Virginity Tests’ Throw Spotlight on Indonesia’s Conflicted Sexual Morality

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Supri / REUTERS

A student reads the Koran in a mosque in Jakarta on Aug. 6, 2011

A small-town education chief in Indonesia made headlines last week after he reportedly planned to impose mandatory virginity tests on female students entering high school. He cited concerns over premarital sex and teen prostitution as the reason. But H.M. Rasyid, the Education Agency chief of Prabumulih, a town in South Sumatra province, wasn’t saying anything Indonesians hadn’t heard before.

In recent years, other figures have argued for virginity tests — an invasive, humiliating procedure that is based on pseudo science — including a provincial legislator in eastern Sumatra in 2010 and a district chief in western Java in 2007. Both proposals were withdrawn after public outrage, but some conservative politicians and religious figures remain in favor of the idea. Says Masruchah, deputy chair of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (and who, like many Indonesians, uses one name): “They have no understanding about human rights. They are more worried about image.” The commission called virginity tests “a form of sexual violence against women.”

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In the wake of widespread condemnation, Rasyid has backtracked. He now claims he only meant to support the parents of a girl who wanted to rebut accusations that their daughter, a victim of a human-trafficking ring, was no longer a virgin.

But regardless whether Rasyid’s proposal was intended for one or many female students, the latest call for virginity tests highlights the country’s increasing anxiety over sexual issues, and, as in many conservative societies, women are the focus.

Nowhere is the push and pull of morality as strong as in dangdut. The immensely popular Indonesian music, with influences from Indian, Arabic and Malay folk music, is staged for wedding parties, community functions and political rallies, inviting performers and fans, men and women alike, to sway and gyrate to a sinuous beat. In recent years, much to the irritation of conservative Muslim clerics, the genre has become more lewd: the biggest hits are songs with risqué lyrics; the biggest divas are famed for their erotic dances and often dressed in skimpy or tight clothing. One of the most famous is twice-divorced Dewi Persik, who encapsulated Indonesia’s moral contradictions perfectly when, in 2011, she went public about having a hymen restoration surgery in Egypt, saying it was to please her future husband.

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As justification for a hard-line approach, social conservatives could easily point to the rising rate of teen pregnancies, which among girls aged 15 to 19 had increased 37% between 2007 and ’12. But women’s-rights activists and medical professionals say this needs to be tackled by comprehensive sex education, not virginity tests, condemnation or prejudice. (They also urge the government to amend the marriage law, which currently puts the minimum legal age of marriage for women at 16.)

“Unmarried girls who aren’t virgins are deemed immoral, when in fact they could be victims of abuse,” says Masruchah. “And victims may get blamed and victimized again.” This happened last year to a 14-year-old girl who was expelled from school after surviving kidnapping and rape by traffickers, because she had “tarnished the school’s image.” The private school in Depok, outside Jakarta, reversed its decision after a public backlash.

In an open letter last week, London-based Amnesty International and a group of Indonesian NGOs criticized Jakarta for failing “to take concrete steps to tackle gender-based discrimination and violence,” leaving “women and girls at continued risk of human rights abuses.” Masruchah says government leaders need to take stern action. “Otherwise, it will be repeated again and again,” she says.

MORE: Indonesia’s Porn Obsession

87 comments
FernandaRosa
FernandaRosa

What if instead of doing these ridiculous "virginity tests", these Indonesian high school girls had sex education classes, easy access to contraceptive methods, and a higher level of education? All I can see here is a new way to abuse these girls, with the comfortable protection of the government. People need to stop seeing virginity as a prove of purity or a duty, and stop treating sex and sexuality a taboo. And please, remember that losing your hymen is not a proof that you are immoral. One's sex life is a personal matter, and the frakking government has no right to put their nose in other people's private life, or their privates itself. Girls are being raped, and schools worry about their "image"? Oh, please! Prostitution represents 2% to 14% of economics activity on Indonesia, Malasia, Philippines and Thailand - They are not giving up on it like that.

Scherri Jacobsen
Scherri Jacobsen

How about virginity tests on boys? Equal treatment, for crying out loud.

FatimaHussain
FatimaHussain

When will people realize that the hymen is not an indicator of virginity.  And regardless of the lack of science behind it, it's wrong.

Jeffrey Guanzon
Jeffrey Guanzon

And one whos going to perform the test is male? So stupid and primitive idea....

Ella Cendana
Ella Cendana

what about the same for men? too bad there's no such thing

Carmen Jordan
Carmen Jordan

Conservative societies?? Women are ALWAYS the focus when it comes to sexual "morality". Even in this country.

Peter Tuann
Peter Tuann

controlling female sexuality has always been the focus, what societies try to control men?

Codee Sato
Codee Sato

Virginity or purity is considered priceless in most Asian culture. In Japan, women who are not married by age 24 & are not virgin are said to be 'left over' Christmas cake. Sadly, not many men wants to marry women who has been a leftover by another man or many men.

Dagmar E. Baechli
Dagmar E. Baechli

Or how about married immoral men who have sex with unmarried (maybe) immoral young girls??

Andrew Lipinski
Andrew Lipinski

I'd like to know how they propose to test boys virginity

Mayaguez Ayuso
Mayaguez Ayuso

I agree with Tiffany Bevis n Bui Hai Anh MrBi! Thank u

Jonathan Darrel Woodruff
Jonathan Darrel Woodruff

People who defend Islam actually make reference to Indonesia as an example of a developed Muslim country.

Miranda Arocho
Miranda Arocho

Places like this are wrought with sexism. Real sexism and subjugation. I've seen this story a few times. I become more and more disgusted by it. Western feminists are such crybabys... They should draw their focus on pressing issues like the ones in Indonesia, for example. The Middle East in particular has a shocking culture when it places such little value on its women.

Ricky Ric
Ricky Ric

U c°m3nt b°ut n3wς_pap3r `n Mㄚ_C`ty ? Hahaaa...

Gillian Dines
Gillian Dines

only the girls then ? - what about the boys having sex with them - *&*# - stone age ...!!! grrrrr.....

Tiffany Bevis
Tiffany Bevis

Human rights violation, please you can be virgin without a hymen. Immoral unmarried girls who have sex?? What about your unmarried immoral boys or do they not count?

Tasia Greka
Tasia Greka

Are u a pedophile????? Why would u wanna be there?? I think police should investigate you sicko

Em Dodds
Em Dodds

I also recall the use and results of Agent Orange in Vietnam...

Ezzeldin Elnakeeb
Ezzeldin Elnakeeb

حاجة تقرف. ايه الوساخة دى اشمعنى المرأة هى اللي مستهدفة في اﻻنظمة الفاشية هى العملية الجنسية مش رجل وامرأة.

Raymond Ess
Raymond Ess

'Virgin', Test! I'm trying to be good here; I'm there.

Nilufar Begum
Nilufar Begum

Syrian people need international support to be saved from brutal killings and torture. Diplomatic and political solution through discussion seems to be the best option. In this connection I remember that Israelis used POISONOUS WHITE PHOSPHOROUS GAS against the Palestinians in Gaza war of 2008-2009. Within a few days they killed 1500 Palestinian civilians including 288 children and 121 women. By any definition and standard these are criminal activities. But the U.S.A did not come forward to protect the Palestinians then. This kind of inconsistency, contradiction and double standard is not fair.

eoktavia
eoktavia

@FransiscaMasli morality and education r 2 diff things. Try to think of fix-ing the problem rather than condemning it even more

MegaPutri04
MegaPutri04

@TIME Aaa.. Whole world would know this hot issue. It's embarrassing, I think.

missnyash
missnyash

@plumandmustard is there one for men? coz if men are so hell bent on virgin women then i WANT A VIRGIN MAN!

k4k1k4k1
k4k1k4k1

@Lynda Schwemmer Reading comprehension is key.  The dumb proposal never got implemented because of the public outrage (you wouldn't have heard about this case had this not caused such a big backlash in Indonesia).  It's just another case of a barely educated public official whose mouth got him into trouble.  Remember the senator here in the US who talked about "legitimate rape" and still refused to apologize even after all the outrage?  You wouldn't use that to say that the US is an awful place for women, would you?  Indonesia is a pretty good place to live (if you have money, just like elsewhere, of course).

k4k1k4k1
k4k1k4k1

@Jonathan Darrel Woodruff Relax, Jonathan.  Didn't you read the part where it says the clueless official backtracked after public outrage?  Other proposals were met with similar public outrage and never got implemented.  You wouldn't have heard about this case had this not caused such a big public backlash in Indonesia.  Q: So, what does all this mean?  A: That Indonesia has a healthy democracy with a well-informed electorate, civil society, and independent media.  Translation: it is worlds apart from backward countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, which actually supports the argument of "people who defend Islam," like you said.

plumandmustard
plumandmustard

@missnyash I hear you, girl. There's nothing more unjust than the way men have tried to regulate female sexuality. I am beyond angry.

FransiscaMasli
FransiscaMasli

@eoktavia oh,that one.. Yah sometimes usul ky gt jg tar ky angin lalu lah beb..ƗƗɑƗƗɑƗƗɑƗƗɑ

eoktavia
eoktavia

@FransiscaMasli yg lacking moral ya yg nyusulin. Klau lo bermoral lo hrusnya nyelesain mslah bkn nambahin dgn bkin malu people publicly

eoktavia
eoktavia

@FransiscaMasli one that came up with the idea of the test.If they so called them selves good,why don't u help rather than add more isssues?