By Rana Shenawi
An Egyptian lawmaker, Elhamy Agina, called this past month for mandatory virginity tests for women before they could be admitted to a university in Egypt. According to Egyptian Streets, Agina said in an interview that female college applicants should not be eligible to receive higher education if they do not pass the virginity tests. These tests aim to combat customary marriages, known as “gawaz orfy” between students that involve a marriage without an official documentation and the public approval of the bride’s guardians. This type of marriage has become more popular in recent years because of high youth unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing, according to Alarabiya.net.
“The young couple sees a urfi marriage as a pragmatic solution,” sociologist Madiha Safty from the American University in Cairo told the BBC News. “[With regular marriages] the groom is supposed to give a gift of jewelry upon engagement, he has to pay a sum for his fiancee to prepare for her life in marriage and find a place to live,” said Dr. Safty. “At the same time she’s supposed to provide the furniture. Of course, people would also like to have a fancy wedding which can be quite expensive.”
Another member of parliament, Yousry Al Moghazy, told Egyptian Streets he also supports Agina’s demand for virginity tests saying, “In order to safeguard the country and our children and prevent prostitution, there has to be [a virginity test]. Girls need to know they can be subjected to the test any day.”
Agina’s views are not shared by everyone in the Egyptian Parliament. Fellow MP Mai Mahmoud explained to BuzzFeed News: “The Egyptian Constitution makes no distinction between men and women. So when an MP said that he wants to subject girls to virginity tests this is not only a distinction but discrimination.”
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) also filed a legal complaint against Agina over his call for virginity tests for admission to Egyptian schools. Maya Morsi, the director of NCW, said the lawmaker was harming the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself, as reported in The Washington Post.
Cairo University President Dr. Gaber Nassar also expressed his anger at Agina’s proposal. “I filed an official complaint to the general prosecutor against the MP for what he said which is a huge insult to our students and a mar to the reputation of parliament,” Nassar said on his Facebook page. Backlash from the push for mandatory virginity testing on female students has also erupted on social media. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian activist, tweeted, “I see Egyptian parliamentarian Elhamy Agina’s obsession with women’s vaginas continues.”
Agina also declared last month that women should undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) to “reduce their sexual desires” and “to stand by their men,” who are sexually weak. “If women are not circumcised, they will become sexually strong and there will be a problem,” an imbalance leading to divorce, he said. FGM exams continue to be a common practice in Egypt. A UNICEF report in 2013 found that 27.2 million women in Egypt have undergone FGM. “The [FGM] exam can be painful or make women feel humiliated or degraded,” said Laurence McCullough, an ethics and health policy researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“Health authorities worldwide should end the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, the director of Human Rights Watch in a statement. Forcing women to go through this unimaginably shameful process, is not only cruel, but also unethical, she added.
Egyptian women should not be punished and degraded “to save their marriages” and “to pursue their degrees” in Egypt. These two proposals are just the most recent examples of how some Egyptian men want to curtail the rights of women.
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