'Virginity Tests' for Egyptian Women Protesters

March 23, 2011

When it comes to devising ways of stripping peaceful protesters of their dignity, the Egyptian military may have just set a new standard for outrage: Egyptian women arrested during a peaceful protest in Tahrir Square earlier this month were forced to take “virginity tests.”

Egyptian women took a leading role in the Jan. 25 uprising. Photo by Ramy Raoof, licensed through Creative Commons.

Make no doubt about it, this constitutes torture, and the Egyptian military knows it. Amnesty International has been told by women protesters that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges.  At least 18 women were held in military detention following the March 9 protests.

“Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women,” said Amnesty International. “All members of the medical profession must refuse to take part in such so-called ‘tests’.”

According to the women, the man in white coat who conducted the tests threatened them with prostitution charges if they weren’t found to be virgins. One woman who said she was a virgin but was judged to have failed the test was then beaten and given electric shocks.

17 women detained in the military prison were brought before a military court on March 11 and released two days later. Several received one-year suspended prison sentences.

All of this is in the context of rising concerns that women, who were at the forefront of the protests that led to President Mubarak’s resignation, are being forced to the background in the development of a new Egypt.

Not only were women left off of the panel of experts that recommended constitutional reforms, but the military crackdown on March 9 protest seems to have been intended to signal a status quo and that the discrimination faced by women and religious and social minorities under the Mubarak regime would continue.

But consider this: Egyptian women will not be left behind. They celebrated the Jan. 25 uprising, but they did not declare victory. The women will return to the streets; they are not in need of rescue as much as solidarity.  We should join them in their message for the Egyptian military: The Jan. 25 uprising did not occur so that Egypt could replace shocking and degrading behavior by one ruler with that of another.

For more on the March 9 protests, click here.

Update: Call for an immediate investigation into torture and forced ‘virginity testing’ on Egyptian women