U.N. Calls For Ban On 'Virginity Testing'

U.N. agencies urged an end to the practice, calling it "painful and traumatic."

U.N. agencies called for the ban of "virginity testing" for women and girls across the globe in a joint statement on Wednesday. The offices for the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Women, and the United Nations Human Rights urged to end the practice globally, calling it "unscientific and a violation of human rights."

The "tests," in which a doctor determines whether a girl or woman is a virgin through gynecological exams, have been documented in at least 20 countries around the world. As the U.N. outlines, the practice is often performed at the request of parents or potential partners to establish a woman or girl's marriage eligibility or even employment eligibility. The agency reports that it's also used to assess the "virtue, honor, or social value" of women and girls.

The agencies denounced the testing, calling it detrimental to the physical, mental, and social well-being of women and girls. "The examination itself is often painful and traumatic," the report reads, pointing out that "its invasive and forcible nature" can lead to both physical health issues and "adverse psychological and social traumas. "

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In some countries, the tests are practiced on victims of sexual violence to determine whether or not an assault took place, often re-traumatizing the women or girl in the process. The exam  "can cause pain and mimic the original act of sexual violence, exacerbating survivors' sense of disempowerment and cause re-victimization," the report states.

In addition to highlighting their stigmatizing nature, the agencies also note that the "virginity tests" lack any sort of basis in science. "There is consensus among scientific and medical communities that the appearance of the female genitalia does not provide evidence of prior sexual history," the statement reads. "Moreover, searching for objective measures to determine female virginity undermines women's decision-making capabilities and presumes a lack of credibility."

Though the method isn't supported by scientific or medical evidence, some individuals still practice it, including in countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Northern Ireland, among others.

To put an end to the practice, the agencies calls for regional and national governments and health associations to enact "supportive legislative and policy frameworks" that eliminate virginity and impose new guidelines for medical professionals and public officials to follow. It also asks communities to lead awareness campaigns that "challenge myths related to virginity and harmful social norms that perpetuate the practice of so-called virginity testing."

Cover image via  BSIP/UIG via Getty Image.

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