In the Afghan judicial system, women and girls accused of “moral crimes” are ordered to have vaginal tests. These moral crimes often involve women who attempt to report rapes to police, but are then arrested for adultery and women who flee forced marriages and are then jailed for running away from home. Women who are found not to have engaged in adultery are jailed for a crime called “attempted zina,” which is another term for adultery.
Our courts rely on this test to determine virginity and decide whether a woman has had recent sexual intercourse. The exam is called the Two Finger Test because doctors probe the vagina with two fingers to examine whether the hymen is present. They also try to decide if the vagina is “lax,” which they say shows that the woman routinely has sex. If the doctor says it is lax, the court assumes she has engaged in intercourse and so she is to be punished.
There are many problems with the use of this test. The doctors are not always qualified and they don’t always have properly equipped facilities. Besides that, the test is not always accurate because the hymen structure varies from woman to woman and it can be broken by activities other than sex. Nor can the test can prove that a woman consented to intercourse.
Sometimes even when the vaginal test result is negative, the woman is still subjected to multiple exams. Sometimes even after these exams continue to prove her to be a virgin, she is still accused of the crime called “attempted zina,” meaning that she was about to have intercourse.
The judgment process in Afghanistan can take two to three months. If a woman is proved innocent, the media and other organizations such as the Independent Human Rights Commission, Women Affairs Directory, and the United Nations Mandate in Afghanistan will probably question the judicial system. So even those who are proven innocent often still will be charged with “attempted zina.”
The vaginal test is an unfair method used to justify unfair charges against women.
For instance, I met a 15-year-old girl called A.P. at the Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre. She was given the virginity test and she was found to be a virgin, but the court said she was still guilty because “she was about to have intercourse.” So she was imprisoned for three months.
Another girl, S.H, who was 16, was put in prison for having met a man she liked and she wanted to marry him. In the documentary Kabul Love Crimes, made in 2011 at Badam Bagh prison, S.H. explained how she went through the vaginal examination, which proved that she was a virgin. The court sentenced her to three years of prison, claiming that she had anal sex.
I met another girl, B.P, age 19, in a women’s prison in Herat. She was arrested while meeting her co-worker. She said she was still a virgin, but after the test she was accused of having sex and was in prison for six months.
Ordering women to undergo vaginal examinations without their informed consent is not only cruel but is a violation of basic human rights and is a form of sexual assault. These exams unfairly affect the court’s decision and cause psychological and physical trauma for women.
Virginity is seen as a symbol of a woman’s purity in Afghanistan. It represents the “honor” of a woman. Women are the “boundary markers of honor and shame” for the family in Afghanistan.
For young people (both men and women) who are arrested just for “liking” each other this injustice can ruin their futures. They will be shunned by society. Their opportunity to build a life they dreamed of is impacted. They will never be able to have a normal life. The Afghan government should abolish this method of investigating crime.
Photo by Jacksoncam