By Tasnin Khan
I listen to Nazanin Mandi and Nadia Moham’s Podcast “Ladies Like Us” pretty religiously. They recently spoke about how they wanted to bring on more male guests to keep a balanced perspective and more different ideas onto the episode. However, they probably didn’t expect what they got when T.I. came on there proudly proclaiming that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist to check her hymen and ensure that she remains a virgin. His approach quickly took the internet by storm, but the truth is virginity testing is an ongoing practice and problem well-beyond T.I.
Virginity testing – also known as the “two finger” test – involves inspecting the hymen (the thin tissue that surrounds the entrance of the vagina) to ensure that it is intact without any tears. This test is not an accurate assessment of virginity in the first place, as a woman’s hymen can tear or stretch in size from a vast number of different activities such as bike-riding, horseback riding, gymnastics, using tampons, etcetera. Nonetheless, testing for its presence is done in over 20 countries today (Afghanistan, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the list goes on) and often interpreted as verification that a girl remains a virgin.
The implications of this practice spread far – not only on the globe but in terms of its impacts on the women and girls who are subjected to it (often by force). There can be discomfort, pain, and humiliation experienced by the girl who is “tested”, all in the name of preserving or assessing the inherent “value or honor” of a woman. Those tested are put at an increased risk for infection and HIV because of those lacking proper training who perform this testing and/or poor environmental hygiene.
Aside from the physical risks a girl or woman may be subject to, there are also short and long-term consequences to their mental health that have been widely documented. Because virginity is such a taboo, yet important concept that is used as social currency to assess a woman’s inherent value and virtue, should she be found with a hymen not intact this can lead to dire consequences to her marriage prospects, employment, family name and way she is treated or punished, etcetera. She may suffer from a loss of self-esteem, self-respect, and battle feelings of disgust in addition to anxiety, panic, or depression. Some even fear death.
Thankfully, the United Nations agencies have taken initiative to shed light on this issue and call for a ban on virginity testing altogether. (https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/17-10-2018-united-nations-agencies-call-for-ban-on-virginity-testing) Ending this practice will require several different entities to come together. First, doctors will need to get educated on this practice and why it should not be performed (its lack of scientific merit), its associated health risks and consequences, and ultimately reject requests to do so. Next, policies will need to be changed to ban this practice altogether and impose consequences for those who violate laws in place. And probably most importantly (in my opinion), communities will need to mobilize and spark conversation around this topic and challenge norms that are deeply harmful like this. It’s safe to say this isn’t an overnight issue, and nor does it have an overnight solution.
It’s scary that in 2019 people with a platform that are revered by many like T.I. are proudly discussing practices that can lead to great harm that is documented and proven to one of those closest to him. Nonetheless, I am glad that he spoke on this topic because it exposed a harsh truth that reaches far beyond his household. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to spark conversation and hopefully effect change on a deeply taboo topic that nonetheless hangs over the heads of many.
Read more about this here: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/275451/WHO-RHR-18.15-eng.pdf?ua=1