“Virginity Testing” by Egyptian Army – an Analysis, What’s at stake, & my revolutionary vision

Posted on June 1, 2011


Democratizing the New Egypt: “Virginity Testing” by Egyptian Army. This is a longer article, and well worth the read, but here are the parts I found particularly astute and more in depth than other analyses I have read (though I think her (American/Western) privilege shows when she so easily dismisses how severe the cultural differences are regarding interaction between men and women.. or maybe I’m wrong, she’s the one living there. I just found it odd):

According to London lawyer Sam Ochieng Ollunga,  one distinction can be made: i.e not all acts of “virginity testing” can be classified as acts of torture. Instead, under the same ambit of the Convention Against Torture — vide Article 16, some of these acts could constitute “cruel [and/or] inhuman [and/or] degrading treatment or punishment.” 

He notes that “The lynch pin for the definition of torture is the “severity” of the intentional infliction of physical or mental pain or suffering towards obtaining information from someone. In some cases, the acts of virginity testing could be considered torture. In others, depending on the facts, the acts could constitute “cruel and inhuman… treatment.” Yet in others — perhaps the majority — said acts more acutely can be defined as “degrading treatment or punishment” under the convention. Articles 11, 12 and 13 as read with Article 16 (begin with Article 16 first), provide color on potential legal redress these ladies can obtain.” 

Turning to the matter of the implicit oppression of women implied by these acts, it is a matter of fundamental human rights that women may participate in public gatherings and express their opinions. Under Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” The word everyone is usually understood to include women….

I also want to point out that testing the hymen for penetration is an absurdity. Vigorous exercise or even horse riding can break the hymen, so a young woman who has never had sexual intercourse or any interaction with men whatsoever could have a hymen that does not look “virgin.” Furthermore, if the idea was to prevent later allegations of rape, then the police could have simply taken a statement from each woman regarding whether they had been raped or molested by any person in the course of the protest. In addition, we do not know what means these so called tests were conducted, but they sound quite physically painful, and they were clearly meant to humiliate as men and women both watched them be conducted, and the women were photographed by male soldiers during the event. Actually, this situation is beginning to sound like Abu Ghraib to me. Finally, as Amnesty International points out, when determining a case of rape, it is irrelevant whether or not the victim is a virgin…

I agree with Murphy, that the goal of this aggression is in part to prevent women from speaking their minds. But I think there is more at stake here. To use an economic lens, this approach “increases the cost” to protesters, both male and female, of opposing government actions. To the extent that men are protective of women, it makes it more hazardous for women to participate in public assemblies, therefore reducing the number of people who can oppose the current miltary regime.

emphasis mine. So pretty much, when it comes to dealing with oppression of various people’s I like to explore out what is at stake for the dominant group if their role as oppressors continues.  In this case, it becomes very clear (as does intersectionality).  Revolutionary men are very obviously both oppressed (which is why they’re fighting back) and also in a position of power relative to women. In order for their endeavors to succeed they must stand in solidarity with women, even if it’s just so they can have the numbers needed to topple the oppressive systems in place.  Which sucks for egyptian women, because they’re full liberation will continue to be an uphill battle.

My vision of a revolution is different.  Generally what happens in any movement is that people join together to fight a common cause without examining their own role as oppressors (to others or each other).  They are fighting one very specific issue while still operating from a place that takes most of the norms for granted (in most ways they still uphold the status quo). In my vision, when people of various backgrounds/intersections join together to fight the larger system at work against them collectively, we must first deconstruct and rebuild our relationships with each other by means of confronting our own privileged and oppressed identities, changing ideas and world views and language which are based out of our privilege in order to stand in true solidarity with one another.  I believe it is the only way for something truly progressive to be built, our relationships with one another must change, how we listen to and validate the experiences of others, especially when it comes to our own identities of privilege.  It’s the only way to be completely united, and to ensure that whatever comes after the revolution will not repeat the same mistakes.. we’ll make new ones though I’m sure. It’s not going to be utopia. Praxis. Always.  This is why I only want to work with people who are willing to engage in such an uncomfortable process. I don’t see how anything else can be called revolutionary.. fighting oppressors in and of itself isn’t really that “revolutionary”.. though i do suppose it depends on which definition you’re going with (the “abrupt change” one or the “totally new and different” one).  I think that a revolution that isn’t transcendent is pointless.