Indonesian authorities have been urged to cease the “invasive” and “discriminatory” practice of “virginity tests” for female recruits and fiancées of military officers in the country’s armed forces.
International military physicians are set to gather in Bali,
Indonesia on May 17-22, 2015, to urge the country’s president,
Joko Widodo, to stop the practice, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The Indonesian armed forces should recognize that harmful
and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ on women recruits does nothing
to strengthen national security,” Nisha Varia, women’s
rights advocacy director at the International Committee of
Military Medicine (ICMM), said.
“President Joko Widodo should set the military straight and
immediately abolish the requirement and prevent all military
hospitals from administering it,” she added.
Human Rights Watch recently found out that all branches of
Indonesian military, including the Air Force, Army and Navy, have
used the test for decades. The same rules strangely apply to the
fiancées of military officers.
The tests are carried out in large halls – separated into
examination rooms using curtains – in military hospitals, a
military doctor told HRW.
The organization interviewed 11 women who had been subjected to
the test, including a female officer at the military health
center and a doctor who was employed with a military hospital in
“The women were positioned like women giving birth. In 2008,
I administered the test myself. Those young women were totally
unwilling to be positioned in such an opened position. It took an
effort to make them willing to [undergo the virginity test]. It
was not [just] a humiliating act anymore. It was a torture. I
decided not to do it again,” a female military medic said.
Another woman, currently a major, recalled how she underwent the
test in late 1980s.
“I graduated from a teachers’ training college in Semarang in
1988. I decided to join the Navy and took the [applicants’
entrance] test. It included the virginity test. It’s
humiliating,” she said.
“I was surprised when watching TV and seeing policewomen
protesting the test. I salute them. Military women are not as
outspoken as policewomen. It’s impossible to have active military
women to oppose the test. I personally agree that we have to stop
the test. But I am just a major. Who will listen to a female
major in the Navy?”
Those who “failed” to pass the test weren’t penalized,
but said that the test had been traumatic, embarrassing, and
“What shocked me was finding out that the doctor who was to
perform the test was a man. I felt humiliated. It was very tense.
It’s all mixed up. I hope the future medical examination excludes
the ‘virginity test.’ It’s against the rights of every
woman,” a female recruit who applied to serve in 2013 said.
The interviewees also told Human Rights Watch that only women
with “powerful connections” or those who bribed the military
doctors were excluded from the testing.
Opinions differed on the reason to hold the tests, though: some
female military recruits said military officers had informed them
the tests were crucial to preserving “the dignity and the honor
of the nation.”
Also, a retired Air Force officer wondered how she could
“defend the honor of our nation if we cannot defend our own
Finally, two military wives said that they had been told that
“virginity tests” helped stabilize “military
families,” in which the husbands are often away on duty for
Human Rights Watch sent letters to the ICMM and 16 member
countries, urging experts to call on the Indonesian authorities
and prohibit the practice.
It follows another letter by the human rights organization to
Major General Daniel Tjen, the general surgeon of the country’s
National Armed Forces. The letter reportedly got no response from
The practice of “virginity tests” has been widely
condemned, with the November 2014 guidelines by the World Health
Organization stating that “there is no place for virginity
(or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”