There has recently been a movement to prevent newly-wed brides from a nomadic community in the western Indian state of Maharashtra from having to go through ‘virginity tests’, as reported by the BBC.
The virginity tests involve the couple being given a white sheet and going to a hotel room where they are expected to consummate the marriage while their families and members of the council wait outside. If the bride does not bleed during intercourse, it is believed that she is not a virgin and the consequences are severe as it can result in the women being beaten, publicly shamed and the groom having the right to annul the marriage.
This is a widespread problem in numerous countries such as in Sweden where it was revealed doctors were carrying out virginity tests to prove the virginity of girls to their religious parents. In Afghanistan, where Bobani Haidari, a gynecologist practicing in Bamiyan Province, told the BBC that she can be asked to carry out 10 virginity tests in a single day and in Egypt where, in 2016, a member of Parliament was calling for women to be submitted to virginity tests before being allowed to go to university, and there are many more instances in other countries. As shown by these examples, these regressive practices are not solely present in non-Western countries and societies but all over the world, which demonstrates the universal importance placed on a woman’s virginity as integral to her self-worth.
The history of virginity tests stems from men wanting to raise the chances that the children their wives bore was their own and over time, the premium placed on virginity became a sign of the success of the patriarchy as it reflects the control they had and still maintain over women.
The Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization (AFSO), as a result of the worrying rise of these tests, conducted research that proves ‘there is no medical or scientific evidence to support the mistaken assumption that a woman who has not previously experienced sexual intercourse will bleed on her wedding night’.
Campaigners are fighting to stop these humiliating tests and in particular, the leader of the campaign to abolish the practice in Maharashtra, Vivek Tamaichekar, is calling for other young people to join him in fighting the ‘conspiracy of silence’. An example of how he is resisting the practice personally is that this year he is getting married and has informed his village council that he and his wife will not be taking part and encourages others to do the same.