We often think of Egypt in terms of its massive and impressive ancient monuments, which have made that northeastern African country the great and unique tourist attraction that it has been for centuries. Early this year, however, in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring that swept the eastern moiety of North Africa – largely Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – we also learned about a rather primitive and morally untenable professional practice among the security forces of that country. And that bizarre professional practice is called a “Virginity Test” which, until just the other day, was routinely performed by male soldiers and cops on women arrested, often, for civil disobedience.
You, ordinarily, would have thought that a “Virginity Test” would be performed by the family members of a prospective husband on a prospective bride to ascertain the chastity or personal morality of the latter. Naturally, in many a patriarchal society, such as pertained to much of Islam-dominated West Africa, nobody asked any questions about the sexual discipline and personal ethics of the man, the prospective husband, that is.
Actually, many intelligent women who recognized such flagrant sexism asked questions but were promptly ignored; needless to say, these women critics were often rudely silenced, maligned and invariably had their chastity and moral integrity caustically impugned.
Of course, in a polygynous society, it was widely known and even often expected that the man would be worldly wise and experienced about the proverbial facts of life. And so naturally, a few men questioned how a society that placed such a high premium on the chastity of women expected to preserve the same, when its men folk were virtually afforded a coital carte blanche.
Anyway, vise-á-vise the Egyptian “Virginity Tests” being presently discussed, we are informed that the main stated objective was to protect security forces against (rampant?) charges of rape and sexual molestation. Paradoxically, however, it was on the latter score that affairs got rather murky. For the logical implication here was that the female arrestee who was discovered not to be a virgin during the course of the test of virginity, was decidedly fair game for any security agent poised to having his way with her.
In essence, regardless of the scientific accuracy of such tests of a woman’s virginity, or the lack thereof, any woman caught in the tentacles of Egyptian civic law and clinically determined to be knowledgeable about the facts of life, as it were, automatically got labeled as a prostitute. And being labeled a prostitute invariably implied that the non-virgin woman could simply not claim to have been raped by a security agent, even if, indeed, she had experienced the same. And if she did claim to have been raped, in the eyes of the security forces, she simply was a liar; and in a worst case scenario, the victim simply asked for it. Needless to say, there is absolutely no way of knowing exactly how many of such vulnerable women who found themselves in the callous grips of the law were criminally taken advantage of, until the recent court order put a definitive end to such lurid practice.
In the test case that witnessed the effective banning of the “Virginity Tests,” the victims/plaintiffs bitterly complained about the nauseating fact of being stripped naked before tens of other security personnel in order to determine the status of their sexual experience. If such flagrant invasion of privacy, in order to ascertain something that the security agents had absolutely no right, whatsoever, to ascertain did not constitute an unpardonable act of state-sponsored criminality, then one is hard put to determine just what such an act is. It is also rather risibly annoying, to speak much less about the outright ironic, for decidedly primitive cultures like contemporary Egypt and much of North Africa to be geopolitically classified and actually taught in the history books as integral to a putatively civilized and/or culturally advanced Europe.
Needless to say, the preceding goes to show the critical reader and thinker how inordinately racialized, far more than either scientific and/or objective, such self-glorifying categories of humanity are, for the most part.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Lulu.com, 2008).
The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of www.africanewsanalysis.com