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Traumatised Virgins: Religious Sects Humiliating Girls

The abuse of girls in some apostolic sects is persisting with some elderly women in Hurungwe periodically testing their virginity.

The True Apostolic Faith Mission, which was officially handed a certificate of registration by the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe a fortnight ago, confirmed that it periodically releases girls of 10 years and above for virginity testing and counselling by the elderly women.

The late bishop Isaiah Makumbirofa’s wife said they are standing firm on this tradition as a way of moulding the girls’ characters. Mrs Makumbirofa said the practise is yielding results as most of the girls are wedding in church.

“We mainly focus on girls who are 10 years old and above, we teach them our culture. Because of the virginity testing, our children are getting married,” she said.
Kukari ki Rasam, Virginity Tests in India 

One of the congregants revealed that most of the girls who had attended a women and girls’ conference that had coincided with the certificate handover celebration had gone through virginity testing.

“Most of the girls are checked and when you marry a girl from here (the church), you are guaranteed that she is a virgin,” the member said.

The Sunday Mail Religion is reliably informed that the test involves having the elderly women feel the girls’ thin membrane, also known as the hymen, using two fingers.

Belief in most cultures is that the hymen must remain intact until a woman has had her first sexual intercourse. However, research also notes that a few women are born without the hymen, while others lose it during rigorous sporting activities.

A Harare lawyer who is also a man of the cloth, pastor Davison Kanokanga, said the Zimbabwe’s Constitution does not clearly address virginity testing.

“There is no clause per se in the Constitution of Zimbabwe that clearly addresses or forbids virginity tests, but the nearest chapter that deals with that is Chapter Four which speaks on The Declaration of Rights.

“Part 2, Section 51 of that Chapter talks about right to human dignity. The other sections that seem to deal with the virginity tests are Section 80 and 81 in the same chapter, which speak about the rights of women and children respectively,” said pastor Kanokanga.

Section 51 states that, “Every person has inherent dignity in their private and public life and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.”

Padare/Men’s Forum on Gender national director, Mr Kelvin Hazangwi said there is need to probe the reasons behind such activities.

“Everything we do has to have a benefit for someone. If you test 10 girls and find out that nine of them are virgins, who will benefit from this information? Do they pass their Ordinary Level examinations because they have passed the virginity test?

“To whose benefit are we doing this? We are only making the girls vulnerable because it’s a market that is being supplied and this then drives early marriages. We also need to deal with this market, whether it is religious or traditional,” Mr Hazangwi said.

Mr Hazangwi also highlighted that it is important to note that those spearheading virginity testing are elderly respected women in church.

“There is an element of respect and fear involved because these are the elderly women doing it. While it gives them a respectable status in their societies, it takes away the dignity of the girls,” he said.

“While at it, who is testing the boys? Why are we not talking about the boys? Then it becomes a battle of sexes. If they are saying that a girl should be married as a virgin so as to preserve marriage, they should know that preservation of marriage is done by two people who have committed to be together regardless of any circumstances.

“Do those girls even want to get married? If they are being told that they are getting tested so that they can preserve their marriages then are they being tested for marriage? That is why the girls are being raped and forced into marriage. Some parents are even receiving lobola from rapists in order to maintain dignity, claiming that their child is married,” Mr Hazangwi said.

He added that this practice brings humiliation to those who would have lost their virginity.

“What of those who are no longer virgins and have had consensual sex? They are stigmatised and labelled. We should never take women’s dignity away. There are people who are looking for those virginity results and it’s definitely not the girls,” he pointed out.

For long, human rights organizations have condemned virginity testing, saying it is inhumane and unethical.

Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe national chairperson for the Gender and Child Care Unit, Reverend Busani Sibanda said any act that is against the supreme law of the land is wrong and should be stopped.

“When we hear of churches that conducts virginity testing, we send people to investigate. We engage the leaders and point out to them that the practice is ungodly and that it contravenes the rights of the children.

“Our members have agreed and promised to educate their church members on the subject. On registering these churches, we look at their constitutions and we vet them on that basis. We are always engaging them and we normally send our guys during church conferences because that is when the tests are usually done,” Rev Sibanda.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a medical expert with over 30 years of experience in the field said such tests should only be conducted when a medical examination is required by the police in investigating sexual abuse cases.

“Virginity tests subjects the children to trauma, they will never forget about it. This also has a lot of repercussions later on in life. These girls are made to undergo physical examination by strangers who will poke into their sexual organs, that is traumatic.

“Later on in life when she gets married, she can be anti-sex and this can lead to divorce. “ln conducting such tests, do these elderly women even wash their hands? There is a risk of infecting these kids. This is barbaric!” the doctor fumed.

The doctor also questioned why the boys are not tested for virginity.

“That is discrimination, subjecting the girls to such embarrassing and traumatic experiences. I am totally against that practise. Parents should just mould their child into good people without going to such extremes,” the doctor said.

Outside Zimbabwe, some sections of South Africa, Egypt and Libya, among other countries, also conduct virginity testing.

According to an article that appeared in The Economist of May 2016 titled ‘So-called virginity tests are nonsensical, degrading and still too common,’ females who want to be recruited into the Indonesian army have to undergo the virginity test first. 

The article also states that until recently, virginity tests were compulsory for female police officers too.

An online source states that traditional methods of determining female virginity often depended on proof of unusual powers of a sexually pure woman. The source says in the past, virgins were credited with performing miraculous tasks such as taming wild animals, calming stinging swarms or holding water in a sieve.

Wikigender also states that virginity testing in South Africa includes assessment of the girl’s innocence through her eyes, taut breasts and the tightness of the muscles behind her knees.

In India, popular forms of virginity testing include Kukari ki Rasam, in which thread is used to detect the presence of a hymen; Paani ki Deej (purity by water), in which a woman is expected to hold her breath under water while someone walks a hundred steps. 

And Agnipariksha (trial by fire), in which a bride walks with a red-hot iron in hand with only a plate made out of leaves and dough shielding her hands from the heat. - Sunday Mail 

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