“Yeah, we did it.”
Sexual assault and rape are well-documented weapons in situations of armed conflict. They also feature as a control technique deployed by many totalitarian regimes. This includes the newly overthrown Egyptian government, in which the sexual violation of both male and female political dissidents was actively encouraged. The current government, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) appears to be following in Mubarak’s footsteps. Or rather, there is none to check their systematic sexual abuses now that they are in charge of the Egyptian state.
The ‘virginity testing’ of young female protesters in Cairo can be seen in no other light than a deliberate sexual violation. There is no legitimate medical procedure that can confirm whether or not a person, male or female, is a virgin. In Egypt and in many countries that place a high premium on virginity at marriage, though, it is widely believed that such an examination is not only possible, but often a necessary part of prenuptial proceedings. Even given the widespread belief in the ‘virginity test’ in Egypt, the rationale for submitting these young women to such a test is frankly bizarre.
Until recently the SCAF categorically denied the allegations of ‘virginity testing’ and other abuses of protestors arrested on 9 March. In fact, despite one general’s anonymous defense of the ‘virginity tests,’ which he says did take place, SCAF continues to deny it through its teeth.
The anonymous general, interviewed by journalist Shahira Amin, made his thoughts on the need for such tests clear. At least, it is clear that he thinks such tests are justified. I fail to follow his reasoning. “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs). We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place. None of them were (virgins).”
What a Molotov cocktail has to do with virginity, I’m sure I don’t know. I am disturbed (if not surprised) by his suggestion that if a woman is not a virgin, her allegations of sexual assault could not possibly be taken seriously. I wonder if the general would have the temerity to say this to his mother.
Regardless of whether the general genuinely believes in the concept of ‘virginity testing’, it is very clear from descriptions of how such tests were carried out that the intention of the testing was to degrade, humiliate, frighten and possibly even take revenge on the women. Revenge for trying to remind the nation that women too want a voice in the reforms, that they too stood in protest in the previous days and months. They too strove to bring down the regime.
Without the support of the whole population, the culture of misogyny and harassment faced daily by women in Egypt is unlikely to stop in the long run. The ‘virginity tests’ are a particularly disturbing symptom of this problem. But there is always a flicker of hope. The fact that women are not remaining silent about their treatment, but insistently reminding their country that this is not what they meant when they protested for change, gives me hope that change might still be in the air for the women of Egypt.
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