Egyptian military halts "virginity tests" for protesters
They sure took their time about it, but last week a court in Cairo ordered the Egyptian military to halt its practice of submitting women in its custody to controversial “virginity tests.” The tests have been only one of many humiliating measures inflicted on female demonstrators during the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt last year. The violence has continued. Last month, images of male soldiers stripping a Muslim woman down to her blue bra became a symbol of ongoing police and army brutality in that unsettled country.
Samira Ibrahim, one of at least eighteen female protesters taken into custody on Tahrir Square last March, filed suit in a Cairo court of law on behalf of her fellow victims. Human rights groups are hailing the December 27 ruling as a victory for their cause.
Why were the tests performed in the first place? The military keeps changing its line. At first, its spokesmen said that the exams were essential to prevent women from accusing soldiers (who are only doing their duty by arresting them) of rape. Now, Adel Mursi, the head of military intelligence, says: "There are absolutely no orders to conduct virginity tests. If someone conducts a virginity test, then it is an individual act and that person will be subject to a criminal investigation." Tomorrow, one of the soldiers will be court-martialed for "public indecency and not following orders."
According to a report by Amnesty International last March, after twenty-year-old Salwa Hosseini
was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women. The women were then subjected to “virginity tests” in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution. According to information received by Amnesty International, one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.
Virginity tests are common in this patriarchal society where women are traditionally expected to enter marriage as virgins. While the ruling is welcome, it is unlikely to change attitudes in the US-financed Egyptian military any time soon. "The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," a general told the press last May under the condition of anonymity.
These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs). ... We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place. None of them were.