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Egyptian court rules against the use of "virginity tests" on female detainees


Posted by:
Micah Bochart

      Yesterday, an Egyptian court issued a ban on the military's performance of so-called "virginity tests" on female detainees, a stirring articulation not only of civil society's resistance to martial oppression, but also of the refusal of Egypt's women to be silenced by assault and intimidation.
     The ruling comes in the case of 25-year-old Samira Ibrahim, a marketing manager, who took Egypt's military junta to court in August with the allegation that she'd been subjected to "tests" of this nature during a violent crackdown on protests on March 9th.
     Rights groups contend that the military has implemented such practices to shield themselves against accusations of rape. Leaving aside the profound fallacy of using sexual assault to guard against sexual assault charges, the practice is perhaps most nauseating when one considers the junta's unshakeable confidence that the survivors of such atrocities would remain silent.
      Ibrahim refused to allow them that privilege, and the courts have reinforced her stance. The three-judge panel attested that the virginity tests were "a violation of women's rights and an aggression against their dignity." Confirming aforementioned suspicions, the ruling also claimed that a member of the junta had admitted to Amnesty International in June that the practice was indeed indented to safeguard against rape charges, and indicated that it was in fact an administrative order and not an individual decision.
     This ruling offers an encouraging companion narrative to a December 20 issue brief from the Center for American Progress, which looked at rape as a weapon of oppression in the context of the Arab Spring.   Amidst a roster of injuries already grimly familiar to anyone who has worked in the field of women's rights - the devastating impact that sexual assault exacts in conservative religious communities, wherein assaulted women are seen to have lost their honor and are ostracized on that basis, or the inability of forcibly impregnated women to obtain abortions - the issue brief also comments on the degree to which women in much of the Arab world, Egypt included, are systematically denied access to the legal sphere. "Rape," it argues, "is not a matter of public justice . . . Public places where rape victims look for legal remedy, such as courts and police stations, are 'no place for respectable women.'"  
     Amidst a regime that makes a hobby out of squashing most forms of democratic expression, it remains to be seen how much yesterday's ruling will do to reverse that trend. But in lending solidarity to Ibrahim's statement  - "I will not give up my rights as a woman and as a human being -" the courts have at least given the green light to women across the country who might otherwise have despaired of their grievances ever being heard.

Cross-posted on Companions of the Garden: