Egypts sickening forced virginity tests punish and humiliate women protesters

Today’s revelation from Amnesty that women protesters in Egypt were detained and subjected to forced ‘virginity tests’, after being strip-searched as male soldiers looked on taking photographs, shows the extent of the challenges facing women in Egypt.

Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old woman, told Amnesty International that she was arrested on 9 march when soldiers cleared protesters from Tahrir Square. Along with other women she was then taken to a military prison in Heikstep: here she was forced to take off all her clothes and was searched by a female prison guard.  During the strip search, she said male soldiers were looking into the room through an open door and two open windows, taking pictures of the naked women.

The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution. One woman, who reportedly said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise,was beaten and given electric shocks.

18 women were arrested and initially taken to a Cairo Museum annex where they were reportedly handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, given electric shocks in the chest and legs, and called “prostitutes”. Most were then released on 13 March after being brought before a military court on 11 March and released. Several received one-year suspended prison sentences.

Women played a big role in the protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities that eventually ousted President Hosni Mubbarak, standing alongside men as they demanded their human rights. But since then, the obstacles they face in claiming those rights have been illustrated in several other incidents.

Female protesters were sexually harassed by men in the celebrations immediately following Mubarrak’s departure, as witnessed by our own research team on the ground. That same day, 10 February, CBS News chief foreign reporter Lara Logan was also sexually assaulted by a large group of men in Tahrir Square, before a group of women and soldiers came to her aid.

And women’s rights campaigners received similar treatment when they marched through Cairo to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, as one protester described to the BBC.

Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to this kind of degrading treatment.

Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is completely unacceptable. We’re urging members of the medical profession to refuse to take part in such 'tests', as they don’t fulfil any medical purpose – they are no more than an attempt to punish and humiliate women who are simply demanding their basic rights.

The role of women in Egypt’s future is being discussed quite widely, including in this excellent piece by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and another from our own Widney Brown. It’s essential that women are not excluded from the ongoing process of political reform in Egypt and other countries – if you agree with this I’d urge you to click here to take action by signing our letter to the Egyptian authorities.

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