Why Do Female Indonesian Police Recruits Need Virginity Tests?

The Indonesian police force's insistence that female police officers under go an invasive gynaecological exam is an example of the country's ongoing issues of women's and gender rights.

Andrea Booth

Andrea Booth

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Human Rights W​atch

Under Article 36 of the the 2009 Chief Police Reg​ulation on Health Inspection (Pemeriksaan Kesehatan) Guidelines for Police Candidates, female police in Indonesia must undergo an "obstetrics and gynaecology" test before she joins the police force. Among other health examinations, this includes having a "two-finger" virginity test.

A female police applicant in Makassar in the South Sulawesi province of Indonesia who had undergone the test but asked to remain anonymous, described the experience as, "traumatic and humiliating." Going on to explain, "There were 20 candidates put inside a room when we were ordered to take off our clothes... [The medical staff] then checked different parts of our bodies. After the physical exam, we were told to enter another room, two candidates at a time, and that's where they tested our virginity. They tested by inserting two fingers using gel. It hurt a lot. One of my friends even fainted."

According to Human Rights Watch Indonesia, 70,000 female police applicants have been examined this year. And while Indonesian Police spokesman Pak Ronny Franky Sompie insists the gynaecology test is not about being a virgin or not, he does state that "All prospective students who enrol in educational institutions are subject to a thorough medical examination, from head to toe, including the examination of the parts of male and female reproductive systems.

"A thorough medical examination ensures that the prospective students enrol in a healthy state and do not risk their lives when following physical exercise and sport."

The police justify the exam as being a way to determine whether prospective employees have contagious and venereal diseases that would impact their and colleagues' health and work within the force. "These diseases could be easily transmitted because they train together, sleep in dormitories and shower in the bathroom together," Pak Ronny explained.

When asked how a test that has traditionally been used to confirm a woman's virginity, not her sexual health status, could be at all useful, he avoided taking a position. "That question should be asked of the doctor who did the inspection who is accountable by the code of medical ethics when there is a deviance," Pak Ronny replied.

Other than obviously being extremely uncomfortable and unsettling for the woman, Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch Indonesia adds that the test, know as dua jari, is also a breach of interna​tional law and the country's 1945 Constitution that states: "every person is entitled to work and receive rewards and fair treatment, and to be treated with decency in employment."

Even if a disease were detected, the information legally wouldn't be enough to prevent a police officer from working. Although Andreas is quick to emphasise that it's unlikely dua jari would even provide the correct information.

"There are other methods than inserting two fingers into a woman's vagina to determine the health and ability of these women to perform in the police force."

Ibu Tumbu Saraswati, from the Indonesian Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), reiterated that checking whether a woman's hymen was intact was a medically discredited practice.

"What we need to understand is that a women's hymen can be broken from sport, dance, a fall, horse riding, or even worse, being raped."

Going on to stress that the practice moves past a physical breach, but also represented a deep misplaced judgement over the women in question's sexual rights: "what is really important to realise about this practice is that it is really unjust that the police judge a woman's morality on if she is sexually active or not."

The first dua jari test was conducted in 1965, according to Human Rights Watch Indonesia. Indonesian National Police High Commissioner Ibu Sri Rumiati told VICE that she banned the police force from practicing "virginity tests" in 2007 using the 1984 Law that stipulates the elimination of discrimination against women.

When Ibu Sri left the Capacity Building Department in 2010 for another department within the Indonesian Police the then head of police personnel, Brig. Gen. Sigit Sudarmanto, agreed to abolish virginity testing.

Despite the changes, little has been achieved in reality with Indonesia's National Police jobs website stating earlier this month that: "In addition to the medical and physical tests, women who want to enter the police force must take virginity tests." Married women are not eligible for the job.

Andreas added that in the largest Muslim-majority country, testing whether a female's hymen is intact to determine if she was a virgin is a new phenomenon, and therefore not a part of Islamic practice, where pre-marital sex is frowned upon along, with the world's other major organised religions.

"Virginity testing is more about patriarchy, controlling women's bodies, women's movements, their vagina, their hair, their skin. It is patriarchal ideology."

The issue is larger than the police force, with calls being made for the Indonesian Government to stop other discriminatory regulation of women such as limiting women's movement at night unless they are with their husbands, fathers and brothers and sons and revoke the mandatory wearing of hijab in more than 100 regencies in Indonesia.

Andreas says that simultaneously there should be more openings for women to enter the job market in the public service.

"They need to be allowed to do what they want to do so we have the most competent members of society in all our institutions."

Human Rights Watch says it recognises the National Police is heading in the right direction as it plans to increase the number of women in the police force from three percent to five percent, and from 14,000 to 21,000 by the end of 2014, which is a 50 percent increase. But that number could easily struggle with anxiety among new recruits over the controversial tests.

In reality the practice that is so much more steeped in culture than medicine would be relatively easy to overturn. All that is needed to stop virginity testing is the National Police chief to write and sign a document that banned the practice.

But at the time of this article, the change seems unlikely. 

Follow Andrea on Twitter: ​@andre​asbooth