Indonesia Must Block Virginity Tests for School Girls

November 15, 2010

Students wait for a ride on commuter buses in Jakarta. ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

As reports surfaced last week of a Indonesian high school forcing their female students to take pregnancy tests and other efforts to institute virginity tests for girls, we’re getting concerned about the effect this will have on women’s rights throughout the region.

The head of a vocational high school in Magetan, East Java, has forced his female students to undergo pregnancy tests as part of their eligibility to study. The headmaster plans to carry out this testing annually, as part of the admissions process. The Indonesian government has as yet done nothing to stop him – in fact, in September a legislator in Sumatra tried to introduce compulsory virginity tests for all female students.

We’re worried that these tests are not only extremely intrusive and degrading for girls at a sensitive age in their development, but also plainly discriminatory: the boys in the high school won’t be subjected to any equivalent form of ‘moral’ testing.

Indonesia, where Barack Obama paid his first-ever visit as President last week, has a patchy record on women’s rights, even the most basic ones –  we saw last week how it often fails to provide women with adequate medical facilities at childbirth. Previously, the Indonesian government has enacted legislation that denies Indonesian women who become pregnant outside marriage full access to maternal care and reproductive health. This is on top of the cultural sensitivity in the region which regularly works to ostracize women who become pregnant out of wedlock.

We’ve already seen Indonesia create laws that violate the individual’s sexual and privacy rights – consensual sex between adults is criminalized, and unmarried adult men and women who are alone together are often punished (under shariah law this crime of ‘Khalwat’ is punished particularly harshly).

We know that gender stereotyped views on sexuality mean that women are particularly vulnerable to these restrictions, especially because they can become pregnant. This leaves them open to health issues, and pregnant girls are sometimes forced to marry young or drop out of school (plainly violating their human rights). Worst of all, pregnancy outside marriage can be interpreted as proof of a crime.

It’s difficult to see how the forward-looking Indonesian government, which wants so desperately to engage with the modern world and reap the rewards of its economic growth, can let these kinds of discriminatory practices go ahead unchecked.

Join us by calling on Indonesia to ban pregnancy testing for schoolgirls and protect labor rights. The government must to work with its citizens to guarantee access to adequate healthcare for all women, free from the threats of discrimination and criminalization that are currently rife.