All branches of Indonesia’s military end ‘virginity tests’ for female recruits

All three branches of Indonesia’s military have finally ended a decades-long practice of subjecting women to a “virginity test” as part of the recruitment process.

Since the 1960s, women applying to the country’s armed forces have been forced to undergo the invasive practice, in the belief that it will establish whether they are sexually active – and therefore if they are “moral” and “worthy of office”.

But Indonesia’s armed forces spokesman announced last week that all three branches of the military have “effectively ended virginity tests”.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told The Telegraph that the women he has campaigned with were “overwhelmed” that the “abusive, unscientific, and discriminatory practice” has now ended.

“They were happy indeed, crying and sobbing,” he said.

Last summer – after years of campaigning from activists – the then army chief General Andika Perkasa told commanders that female recruits should only be assessed on their abilities, and not subjected to medical tests that their male counterparts do not go through.

He added that the fiancées of male officers who applied for permission to get married also did not need to have a medical check or “virginity test”.

But despite the order, the military said in August that “virginity tests” were still a rule – suggesting that the navy and the air force were dragging their feet.

Surge in applicants to army post rule change

Mr Harsano said the change appeared to come after President Joko Widodo promoted General Perkasa to commander overseeing all three forces in November.

He added that, since the army revoked the test, the number of women applying to join has “increased almost two times”.

A virginity test, otherwise known as the “two finger test”, involves medics checking whether a woman’s hymen is still intact, supposedly to discover if she has been sexually active.

The World Health Organization says it has no basis in science, while activists suggest it has been used in Indonesia as a humiliating threat to keep women from progressing in the country’s security apparatus.

In 2019 Iroth Sonny Edhie, a chief aide and head of protocol for the Indonesian defense minister, told The Telegraph that “as a woman, as a lady, you should maintain or preserve your virginity before you go [on] to marriage”, claiming this was a key value of the military.

HRW has now urged the Indonesian government to “investigate the decades of trauma this policy has wrought on women and provide support for those affected”.

“This is important both for the military and the nation at large to understand the harm caused and prevent similar mistreatment in the future,” said Mr Harsano. “Women seeking to join the country’s armed forces should not have to overcome discrimination and abuse to do so.”

Separately, Indonesia last week passed a landmark bill that outlaws forced marriage and sexual harassment for the first time. It includes 15-year prison sentences for sexual exploitation, nine years for forced marriage and four years for circulating non-consensual sexual content.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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