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On Hymens And The Egyptian Parliament

2 October, 2016
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Rights lawyers and women's groups have responded vehemently to the call made by Egyptian MP Ilhamy Agina that women undergo mandatory 'virginity tests' to ensure their 'purity' prior to being admitted to universities in Egypt. 

Agina justified his request saying that it would decrease the number of illegal "urfi" marriages, conducted in secret. As part of a culture which considers pre-marital sex as taboo, Agina wants Parliament, media, and university officials to stand by his "initiative."

In reaction to the call, rights lawyer Tarek Al-Awady decided to file an official warning to Head of Parliament Ali Abdel-Al, asking to refer Agina to a disciplinary committee for interrogation, reported Al Bedaiah. The MP's request is anti-women, unconstitutional, and against societal ethics, according to Awady's statement. According to Al Masry Al-Youm, the National Women's Council also filed an official complaint to the prosecution against Agina.

Agina does not seem to grasp the science behind a hymen. A hymen is a membrane partially surrounding the vagina, which may be torn for various reasons throughout a person's life regardless of her sexual activity. Nor may sexual intercourse need completely 'break' the hymen; it may stretch it or cause a tiny tear. Some girls are born with extra hymen tissue and need to undergo surgery to remove it.

Viewed as sexual assault, virginity tests are highly condemned by the World Health Organization (WHO). A 2014 WHO handbook stated that the invasive and degrading "virginity test" or the "two-finger test" - still used in some countries to "prove" that a female is a virgin - has "no scientific validity."

Should Abdel-Al decide on a vote in response to Al-Awady's challenge, MPs legally have the power to vote Agina out of parliament.

This was not Agina's first controversial stance in parliament. The MP has previously defended female genital mutilation (FGM), saying that it would "reduce their sexual desires" to match that of Egypt's "sexually weak" men. Nevertheless, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi approved a new law that enforces harsher punishment over FGM.

Despite the attacks and lawsuits, another MP, Yousry Al Moghzay rose to defend Agina, attacking the way women dress on campuses "like belly dancers."

"In order to safeguard the country and our children, and prevent prostitution, there have to be [virginity] tests. Girls need to know they can be subjected to the test any day," came Al Moghazy's statement to Parlamany.

The vast majority of females in Egypt undergo FGM. Considered a taboo to not only practice, but even to discuss, a girl is almost never educated about sex, or sexual pleasure. Adding insult to injury, society usually blames a woman for rape, with all her rights lost, if not even punished by her family for putting them to "shame."

The good news is, despite the physical and mental repercussions FGM has on a girl, a recent study proved that those who undergo the procedure may still feel sexual pleasure. The question for Mr Agina remains, even if a hymen could prove previous sexual intercourse, can his naive "initiative" prevent woman from doing as they wish following the tests?


Photo: Alison Postma // CC BY-ND 2.0

Tags MENA Because FGM virginity tests gender Feminism education women's rights in Egypt