Your Last Job Interview Might Have Been Bad, But Did You Have To Undergo A Virginity Test?
The Debrief: Yesterday, the World Health Organisation condemned virginity testing in Indonesia, but as we discovered, the practice is still rife
What’s the worst thing that's ever happened to you in a job interview? An uncomfortable moment when you’re forced to admit that the conversational Spanish listed on your CV is a wild exaggeration? Or maybe you burst into tears at the end and begged for the job? But we’re betting that even the most cringe-worthy interview experience won’t match that of the young women in Indonesia, who are expected to undergo a virginity test before they can join the police. Which is so much worse than the time you accidentally called your potential new boss ‘dad’.
The test is both psychologically gruelling, and in some cases physically painful, and yesterday, the WHO condemned recent reports of virginity testing – but according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the test has existed since at least 1965 as a requirement for any female candidate. Referred to as the ‘two-finger test’, it involves an invasive and allegedly painful examination to determine if a woman’s hymen is intact, using two fingers. It’s performed in police-operated hospitals by police doctors, and the National Police plans to increase the number of policewomen to 21,000 cadets by the end of the year, all of whom will have undergone the test. ‘It was very uncomfortable for me, because I had to show my private parts to a stranger,’ said Sri Rumiati, Head of Police Technology and Security Management Training in Indonesia, speaking to The Debrief.
The HRW report includes several first-person accounts. One anonymous 18-year-old candidate said, ‘Most of us had gone through so much preparation to apply to be a policewoman. I felt I had no power to object because if I refused to undergo the virginity test, I would not be able to enter the police force.’
Men are not tested for virginity, the simple explanation being that there is no way to test men, because they do not have a hymen. However, there are no scientific foundations to the virginity test – as anyone who ever rode a horse, used a tampon or played sport as a teenager will know, your hymen can break for all sorts of reasons. As such, the notion of the hymen as a virginity indicator has long been discredited by the scientific community.
To the older generations, virginity is still considered important to the extent of its relation to free [casual] sex and morality
And even if testing a woman’s virginity this way was effective, what difference would it make to her suitability to join the policeforce? In Indonesia, the underlying reason for the virginity requirement for women is gender discrimination, by acting according to expectations of what is acceptable behaviour for women or by discouraging them to take up jobs, especially those traditionally considered to suit men, like police work. ‘There are some efforts from a minority to drive women back to the private area in the name of religion. Most Indonesians still believe that women are destined to look after the family and obey their husband,’ Sri Ruminati told The Debrief. ‘To the older generations, virginity is still considered important to the extent of its relation to free [casual] sex and morality.’
It sounds insane to us, but when the same woman spoke out against the test during a meeting in 2010, as documented by the HRW report, colleagues from the police force and health centres opposed her on moral grounds, reportedly asking, ‘Do we want to have prostitutes joining the police force?’ Because everyone knows if you don’t have a hymen you’re probably a prostitute.
Andreas Harsono, lead researcher from HRW, has reported a similar attitute. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, he said the head of the National Police law division, Inspector General Moechgiyarto used the classic defence: ‘If she turns out to be a prostitute, then how could we accept her for the job?’
The test even has backing from some policewomen. We spoke to one, who also wished to remain anonymous, whose reaction to recent public outcry to the test, thanks to the report, was, ‘LOL! That’s annoying. Some people are just excessive. [Based] on my experience there’s no discrimination. It was fun!’
Descriptions of the test vary between sources, but her account depicts a more positive experience and suggests potential misunderstanding of what is actually being tested. ‘We are asked to sit on a table for women giving birth. A female doctor did the test, usually. The “two finger” test never happened. I think it’s just some medical test called virginity test, not a virginity test literally.’ But even if they’re not testing a woman’s virginity, when’s the last time you had a gynecological exam before getting a job?
Well, the girl we spoke to approved of the test for ethical reasons (well, ethical to a point – in her view, it’s women who raise the children in Indonesian society, and the test ensures the women the police are recruiting are morally upright). ‘This institution wants the best candidates. I think it’s just prevention of the impact of free sex. We teach a man, we teach a man. We teach a woman, we build a generation.’ Again, there’s no word on how they plan to test the morality of male recruits at any point in the future.
But women like Rumiati recognise the test as a violation of human rights and are doing their part to bring it to an end, in theory and in practice. ‘As a psychologist and a counselor who is heavily involved in the issue of violations against humans, I never get tired of speaking for women’s rights. Due to the hierarchy within the Indonesia Police Organisation, I usually work with colleagues who have authority and access to the chief of police.’
In addition to the medical and physical tests, women who want to be policewomen must also undergo virginity tests. So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity
For his part, General Sutarman, chief of police, claims the test is no longer conducted. Article 36 of Chief Police Regulation no. 5 on Health Inspection Guidelines for Police Candidates, from 2009, states that female police applicants need to undergo an obstetric and gynecology examination. The article does not specifically mention a virginity test, but senior sources informing the HRW report said that the test is indeed still carried out early in the recruitment process as standard, if perhaps unofficial, practice. In fact, Indonesia’s National Police jobs website states that, ‘In addition to the medical and physical tests, women who want to be policewomen must also undergo virginity tests. So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity.’ Married women are not eligible for the job. Virginity testing is still officially conducted in all divisions of the Armed Forces, from which the police separated in 1998.
The tests have been recognised internationally as a violation of human rights, particularly the prohibition against ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Indonesia has ratified. And what’s really shocking is that Indonesia is by no means the only offender – India, Egypt and Afghanistan are among countries where virginity testing has also been reported. All things to be grateful for next time you're dragging yourself to another tedious round of job interviews.
Requests to speak to the Indonesia National Police went by unanswered.
Liked this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Nina on Twitter @nination
Pictures: Getty, Beth Hoeckel
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating