The World Health Organization, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN Women issued a joint statement Wednesday calling on governments, health professionals and communities to take steps to end the practice of “virginity testing.”
After a comprehensive systematic review of “virginity testing,” the practice of examining women to determine whether vaginal intercourse has occurred, the UN has found that “the examination has no scientific merit or clinical indication … there is no known examination which can prove a history of vaginal intercourse.” The agencies then provided background on the history of “virginity testing,” citing the use of force in administering “virginity tests,” the tendency of such tests to be used to reinforce gender discrimination, and the long-term trauma that the tests have on women. On review of the history and effects of “virginity testing” the agencies cited six human rights that are being violated:
-The right to be protected from discrimination based on sex.
-The right to life.
-The right to privacy and physical integrity.
-The right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
-The right to the highest attainable standard of health.
-The right of the child.
The tests themselves violate several rights by causing personal invasions and leading to adverse health affects, but the UN found that the after-affects are just as important, citing long term physical and psychological trauma that has even led to suicide in some cases. Finally, the agencies cited the rights of children and condemned the practice being carried out on children who have a right to be protected by society.
Ultimately, in finding no reliable science or medical necessity in “virginity testing,” the agencies called on health professionals, governments, and communities to take action and provided suggested strategies for each. For healthcare providers, the statement called for a dissemination of the new science around “virginity tests” while also citing the physician’s responsibility to “do no harm” and advocating for the counseling of families requesting “virginity tests.” The statement urged governments to take responsibility to ban “virginity testing” through legislation and to enforce such bans even through criminal prosecution if necessary. Finally, the UN called for local community advocacy to change the societal norms that have kept “virginity testing” in place through discussions, community statements, and calls from community leaders for change.
The agencies identified more than 20 countries where “virginity testing” has been documented, including western countries like the UK, Belgium and Canada.