Challenging Harmful Practices | Hymen Examinations

So-called virginity testing – the examination of a woman’s hymen –  is used in many countries to determine a woman’s sexual status or history. In Afghanistan, women suspected of adultery are forced to submit to hymen examinations by government doctors. The results are then used as evidence to convict and imprison them for “moral crimes.”

“Virginity testing” has no clinical or scientific value, and conducting hymen examinations for this purpose violates basic medical and legal standards. Often performed without consent or in a context of threat or force, they can be psychologically and – in some instances – physically harmful.

PHR advocates for this abusive practice to be abolished and for medical professionals to refuse to participate in these invasive and meaningless tests. In 2015, we produced a scientific brief debunking hymen examinations as illegitimate and completely unscientific, and worked with our partners in Afghanistan to raise awareness about the practice.

Years of pressure were successful: in 2018, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health announced a new policy barring government health workers from performing vaginal and anal examinations.

While this is a welcomed first step, PHR continues our work ensure that medical colleagues in Afghanistan and elsewhere do not commit abuse masking as medicine.