Human rights organisations have welcomed the Indonesian army’s apparent decision to end the “abusive” and long-criticised “virginity testing” of female recruitments.
The procedure is known in Indonesia as “the two-finger test”, because during the examination the doctors would insert two fingers inside the woman’s vagina to check whether the hymen is still intact or not. Those declared not to be a virgin would be rejected for recruitment.
In a teleconference with military commanders across Indonesia, army chief of staff, Gen Andika Perkasa signalled the end of the decades-long practice and said that women would be recruited in the same way as men.
Recruits would be chosen on their ability to follow the army’s education process, Gen Perkasa says in an excerpt from the teleconference uploaded to the Indonesian army official YouTube account on 18 July.
“There will be no more [medical] examination outside that purpose,” Perkasa said. “There are things that are not relevant … And [we] can’t do that kind of examination any more. We must do the same examination on the women recruits like we do on the men recruits.”
The vaginal test was also in some cases carried out on the female fiancees of military officers.
Human Rights Watch said that the changes that Perkasa stated in the conference referred to the “abusive, unscientific, and discriminatory ‘virginity test’ that all branches of the Indonesian military have used for decades for female recruits”.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the army was doing the right thing.
“It is now the responsibility of territorial and battalion commanders to follow orders, and recognise the unscientific, rights-abusing nature of this practice,” he said.
The end of the testing was welcomed by Indonesian women.
Anindi, who underwent the test 23 years ago as a hopeful 18-year-old naval recruit in Yogyakarta, recalled her devastation at being rejected after having the test despite scoring high marks in other tests.
“It will be a breakthrough if they end this test,” said Anindi, which is not her real name. “Even if it’s just for the army. Because it was a derogatory procedure for women.”
She said her father was in the navy and he dreamed that one of his children would follow in his footsteps. But Anindi, who was not a virgin, told the female doctor to stop when it was her turn to have the test.
“I did not want to be groped without my consent. So, I told her to stop and told her that I was not a virgin,” Anindi said. “I stopped her not because I was afraid she would find out that I was not a virgin, but because I felt uncomfortable with the procedure. That is the price for female recruits to enter the military; that trauma.”
HRW interviewed women from all over Indonesia who had been through the test, concluding that it was “a nationwide practice”. Harsono also said that they interviewed a woman who undertook the test in 1965.
“It means this unscientific, abusive, and discriminatory practice has been going on for more than five decades,” he said.
Alim Qibtiyah, a commissioner at the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said she was still waiting for the policy switch to be made official but said it could mean more opportunities for women to join the military. Currently, only 10% of the country’s 450,000-armed services personnel are women.
“It will open more opportunities for women,” said Qibtiyah. “They will be confident and comfortable that they will be accepted because of their qualities. It’s not fair that women were demanded to prove their morals [through the virginity test], while for the men recruits? How do you prove that?”
The World Health Organisation has stated that virginity testing is unscientific, harmful, and a violation of women’s human rights that would bring immediate and long-term consequences that are detrimental to physical, psychological and social wellbeing of the women who took the test.
“The examination has no scientific merit or clinical indication – the appearance of a hymen is not a reliable indication of intercourse and there is no known examination that can prove a history of vaginal intercourse,” the WHO stated in its report entitled Eliminating Virginity Testing published in 2018.