Indonesia Military Finally Ends Abusive ‘Virginity Test’

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Demonstrators protesting so-called “virginity tests” and sexual violence in Indonesian schools and universities during the Women’s March rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2020.
© 2020 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch

Indonesia’s armed forces have finally ended all so-called “virginity tests” as part of the recruitment process for women.

Last week, Indonesian armed forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Sudirman announced that all three branches of the military – the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force – had “effectively ended virginity tests” for recruitment.

The military’s first actions against this abusive practice began in June 2021 when then-Army Chief General Andika Perkasa issued an order to army commanders that female recruits should only be assessed on their ability to take part in physical training. He also ordered that the fiancées of male officers who applied for permission to get married no longer needed to get a medical check, including a “virginity test.”

But despite the Army’s order, the military said in August 2021 that “virginity tests” were still the rule, implying that the Navy and possibly the Air Force were unwilling to follow the Army’s ban. This only changed after President Joko Widodo promoted Perkasa to commander overseeing all three forces in November.

So-called “virginity testing” is a form of gender-based violence. It includes the invasive practice of an official inserting two fingers into the vagina to supposedly assess whether the woman has previously had sex. In November 2014, the World Health Organization issued guidelines that “there is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Human Rights Watch in 2014 first exposed the use of “virginity tests” by Indonesian security forces, and while the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Police ceased examinations, the government failed to effectively stop the practice by the military.

The Indonesian government should investigate the decades of trauma this policy has wrought on women and provide support for those affected. This is important both for the military and the nation at large to understand the harm caused and prevent similar mistreatment in the future. Women seeking to join the country’s armed forces should not have to overcome discrimination and abuse to do so.

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