This past week, the Egyptian lawmaker and member of parliament, Elhamy Agina, announced that he would like women to take a virginity test before being admitted to the country's universities. Just what the world needs, another male politician telling women what they should do with their own bodies.
In an interview with Youm 7 newspapers, translated into English by Egyptian Streets, Agina requests that “any girl who enters university, we have to check her medical examination to prove that she is a Miss." He then goes on to explain that women wishing to go to college must present proper medical documentation verifying that their "virginities" are still intact. When Agina uses the word “miss," an Egyptian term used to describe a girl who has not had sex and cannot be seen in the eyes of the law as a woman, this tells young women that their bodies belong not only to the men that they have sex with, but also the government itself.
Agina clarifies that the law's intent is to prevent customary marriages within Egypt, marriages that are not officially registered and do not require the traditional blessings from both families. In Egypt, conservative values prohibit sex before marriage, therefore in order to avoid cultural pressures and family conflicts, many Egyptians engage in customary marriages. Like many lawmakers in Egypt, Agina opposes these types of marriages because he believes that they encourage and excuse premarital sex, he hopes that this law that would help deter couples from marriage but also notify the woman’s family if she is not a virgin.
It should be acknowledged that Egyptian and Muslim cultural values both differ and are defined outside of the context of US cultural values, holding their own validity and warranting respect and sensitivity. That being said, it is important to recognize Agina's law as an instance of sexism and as a violation of human rights — calling for global attention and criticism. Forcing women to take a test that determines their virginity and threatening to refuse their rights to an education is sexist, and a violation of women's autonomy. To begin with, studies have shown that the old school myths of female virginity such as the hymen breaking when a woman first has sex or a woman’s vagina becoming loose after sex aren’t even valid indicators of sexual experience. Shockingly enough, most women “break” their hymens long before they have sex, mostly from physical activity and rough childhood play. Second of all, to deny a woman’s right to her education because she has had sex reflects the struggles that women around the world continue to encounter in trying to attend school.
According to Unicef, “providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies, and are more likely to send their children to school." It is a proven fact that increased gender parity will benefit not only the children of today but children for generations to come. It is unacceptable for any lawmaker to try and control a woman’s ability to get an education, especially on the grounds of sexual experience. For Agina to say that “no one should be upset by this decision” is insulting on many levels, it is not, however, surprising, given his record of misogyny, including the approval of female genital mutilation.
Agina has stated that women should undergo female genital mutilation in order to reduce their sexual appetites because Egyptian men are “sexually weak." Although it seems unlikely that cutting off women’s clitorises will have any effect on Egyptian men’s sexual behaviors. It is astonishing that a man with public power is working to re-enact a medical practice that has been banned in Egypt since 2008, even though female genital mutilation is still widely practiced to this day. This map shows the prevalence of FGM in Africa as of 2015 and based on the data it is clear that FGM still has a large cultural presence within Egyptian society.
Although Parliament is in the process of reviewing Agina due to these comments that he has made during the last month, he still very well may win over conservative Egyptians with his ideals. In the interview, he talks his plans to urge fellow lawmakers, members of the Egyptian media, as well as the country's colleges and universities, to stand by virginity tests, and that he hopes that Egypt’s Higher Education Ministry will put him in control of reviewing all virginity tests prior to University acceptance. I hate to say it, but I think that we’ve found a politician who has an even bigger ego than Trump and it frightens me that Agina actually has the political power to do real damage to the women of Egypt. We can only hope that as the world becomes more aware of Agina, they will stand up the absurd misogyny that he is spewing. Hopefully, people around the world can realize how harmful it is to expect women to take a virginity test in order to obtain higher education and that this violation of human rights should not go into effect.
Photos Courtesy of Wikicommons, MEMRITV and Flickr
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