“This barbaric and humiliating practice is finally abolished”rejoiced from Jakarta Andreas Harsono, researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), after the announcement of the abolition of “virginity tests” imposed on Indonesian women wishing to join the national army. “I have received many phone calls from traumatized military women since last week,” says this former journalist who fought for years to put an end to this practice. “They cried for a long time when they heard the good news and thanked me for helping to abolish this practice from another age. » Women represent 2% to 3% of the 500,000 soldiers of the Indonesian army.
This practice goes back to the beginning of the 1960s under the dictatorship of President Sukarno, leader of the independence of Indonesia in 1945. At the time, the three army corps (land, navy, air) accepted women in their ranks, provided that they are not “dirty girls” but of “good and nice young girls”. “It had nothing to do with the Muslim religion, explains Andreas Harsono, but simply reflected a very patriarchal and macho way of thinking. » In her eyes, what is called a “virginity test” is nothing less than a “discriminatory violence based on a person’s gender. The invasiveness of two fingers inserted into a woman’s vagina to pretend to prove her virginity is not only sexual assault but scientifically proves nothing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO),” he protests.
When Human Rights Watch first denounced these tests in 2014, the police stopped the practice but the government failed to impose it on the various army corps. It will be necessary to wait until 2021 for the army to take the first decisions to abolish these tests thanks to General Andika Perkasa. Order was given to the commanders of the armies to put an end to this violent stigmatization and to take into account only the physical and intellectual capacities of the new recruits. “This courageous general also ordered that officers who wished to marry should no longer be forced to pass this virginity test to their future wife”, adds Andreas Harsono.
Support must now be given to the women most affected
However, only the army complied with these orders, the navy and the air force always refusing to do so. It took President Joko Widodo to appoint General Perkasa to the post of supervisor of the three army corps in November 2021 for these discriminations to be definitively abolished throughout the army last week. “We can already see that the number of women wanting to join the army, the first to have abolished the tests, has jumped enormously in one year”, notes Andreas Harsono, convinced that the movement will also follow in the navy and the air force.
With this battle won, Human Rights Watch now calls on the Indonesian government to investigate the trauma suffered by tens of thousands of female soldiers over decades. “The regime must now listen to them and provide psychological support to all those who are deeply affected, argues Andreas Perkasa. It is important not only for the army, but for the whole country so that Indonesians understand the wounds caused by this mistreatment and that it does not happen again. »