In some countries, women are killed for not being virgins. In a May 2005 paper entitled, "The Economic Advancement of Women in Jordan: A Country Gender Assessment," the World Bank reported that 95% of the women killed in Jordan in 1997 for alleged violations of family honor were later found to be innocent of immoral behavior. In other words, they were still virgins, even though they'd been otherwise accused. The perpetrators acted as judge, jury, and executioner. To hell with due process and basic human rights. I wrote about this in Reclaiming Honor in Jordan.
I didn't, however, write about pre-marital virginity examinations and hymen repair surgery. About a month ago, a Jordanian institute, the Jordanian Committee of Religious Decrees and Islamic Studies, issued a fatwa saying that pre-marital virginity checks are now haram, or banned under Islamic law. The fatwa called the practice a form of abuse against women. Alhamdulillah! (Translation: All praise belongs to God!) Prior to the fatwa, Mr. Mumin Al-Hadidi, the head of Jordan's National Center for Forensic Medicine, said he conducted around 150 virginity examinations a year (the Jordanian population is about six million), most of them on young women about to get married. The fatwa doesn't rule out the use of such tests if requested by the judiciary but, if adhered to, it goes a long way toward restoring dignity to that half of the human species known as female.
Pre-marital sex remains a no-no for Jordanian women. I knew never-married women in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s who told me they were still virgins. One Ammani emergency room doctor told me it isn't that unusual for a groom to bring his bride--still dressed in her bridal gown--to his ER, distraught and demanding that her hymen be checked because she didn't bleed at penetration. This particular doctor said that he then separates the two, sends the bride off to a private examining room, keeps her there for a respectable hour or so while he tends to other patients, releases her to her husband, and assures him in her presence that she was a virgin prior to their first coupling. He knows that any qualifications on that could deem the marriage null and void and result in the brutal murder of the female. But he also expressed his complete and utter dismay at the double standard, as well as the ignorance of males about female anatomy and the multiple ways a hymen can be broken.
Because the repercussions for a sexually-active, unmarried female are so great, some of them opt for hymenoplasty (i.e., surgical reconstruction of the hymen). A private hospital across the street from one of the hotels I stayed in quietly offers the procedure. I inquired about it when I went there to get a flu shot and was told it is a popular procedure. I was later introduced socially to a hospital owner/administrator. As I got to know him better, I asked about the procedure. He said his hospital doesn't promote it but performs it for a few hundred dinars (less than US$500) and business is brisk.
Time magazine has reported that comparable surgery costs about US$5,000 in France and that "30% to 40% of both original and reconstructed hymens fail to produce the virginity-confirming bleeding when ruptured by penetration, anyway."
Does anyone know where I can find someone who will issue a binding fatwa denouncing this obsession with hymens and virginity and mandating gender equality and universal human rights?
Causes Ellen Sheeley Supports
For All Women Foundation