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Virginity tests : An inappropriate response to HIV and AIDS
Women's Action Group
September 12, 2005

We write in response to an article in the Herald of the 9th of September 2005 about the efforts by chiefs and headmen in Gokwe to resuscitate virginity testing in their area. It is true that for both boys and girls abstaining from sex until entering a mutually monogamous marriage protects against sexual transmission of HIV. We support and promote abstinence among young unmarried people but not virginity testing.

Chief Naboth Makoni of Makoni District in Rusape has tried to employ virginity testing as a strategy of dealing with HIV in his constituency but it has failed. His area has ironically been cited as having one of the highest prevalence rates in Zimbabwe. In Swaziland, where girls also go under routine inspections has experienced the same. What best practices then are the Chiefs in Gokwe taking up from such experiences?

The young girls who are being subjected to such violence as virginity testing are said to be undergoing these tests voluntarily but is it so? Are they not giving in to these tests for fear of stigmatization, being labelled and regarded as ‘impure’? The practices are an invasion of privacy and they infringe on the rights of the girl child. As an organization we carried out a study in Rusape where young women revealed that they resent the practice. What is also disheartening is the fact that those who fail the tests sometimes are victims of rape and incest and those that rape them are their own kith and kin but these cases are swept under the carpet. Adding salt to injury is it not?

Just to pose a question to the chiefs and all the other advocates for virginity testing. Must the responsibility of curbing the spread of HIV be heavily and placed solely on the shoulders of the girl child in such a manner? What have the chiefs and the wider community done in their personal lives to show their commitment to the fight against HIV? How many of them have gone for HIV testing? As adults are we not the ones responsible for the greater part of the spread of HIV? What measures are the chiefs putting in place for the promiscuity of adult men and women which has seen many married people getting infected on their own marital beds. Not to ridicule these gatekeepers of culture but are they all monogamists or many of them have more than one wife, a practice that is also contributing to the spread of HIV.

Boys are not being subjected to such intimate examinations and it seems this has been a way of condoning their infidelity.

Before testing these girls’ virginity lets ‘test’ the effectiveness of virginity testing as a response to HIV and AIDS. How about trying to address poverty, high rates of unemployment, commercial sex work and low levels of literacy that characterize the communities in question.

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