In September last year, an Egyptian Parliament Member suggested that women should be forced to undergo a “virginity test” before being admitted to college. For those who fail the test and are not proven virgins, their parents must be contacted immediately. The suggestion is way beyond bad, because it’s not only about invading a woman’s body, degrading her, or causing her physical or psychological harm, it extends to reducing her whole being to a few drops of blood.
Being raised in an Arab country doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to learn about your body or sexuality. As a girl, you grow up learning that your body isn’t yours – it’s your father’s, it’s your husband’s, it’s your family’s honor, and you’re no more than of a keeper for you own ‘chastity’ until you’re safely delivered to a husband.
Because of this, women are sometimes denied the right to justice against sexual abuse, as well as the right to sexual pleasure. To find out how young Egyptian women feel about this, I spoke to some of them to bring you this series of monologues. In our second week, we have Marwa, a law student:
“I can pretty much say that none of what I know about my body came from anyone around me. I was interested; I looked it up; and I experimented until I fully understood things. I did know about the idea of virginity, it was a distorted version of it. People around me are quite accepting in this matter, if we’re talking about friends or co-workers. Even then, some of them want to be okay with it, but the idea that a girl who lost her virginity “can do anything” is hardwired in their minds so they circle back to it one way or another.
My family on the other side is very, very condescending. A girl like that to them is either a whore, a clueless child that some predator fooled, or a non-believer, but more than all that she’s a lesser woman. I did know girls who abstained for the consequences alone, but I think the ones that need more attention are the ones exercising this form of oppression onto themselves willingly.
A friend of mine lost her virginity a while ago and then she discovered she has health issues that demand she’d go to a gynecologist. But she can’t because her parents would find out. She goes sometimes out of her own money and has to be discreet like a divorcée or a foreigner would.
I think the kind of awareness that needs to be spread nationwide is about things like the fact that some women are born without a hymen. Meanwhile, girls should be made aware that having sex or not is their choice, kinda like the efforts these days are spent to spread awareness about domestic abuse and so on. The issue here is a little more complicated because of religion. I don’t think that side of things will improve any time soon to be honest.”
Editor’s Note: Over the course of two months, Sarah Marzouk reached out to young Egyptian women about society’s obsession with virginity. Despite the silence around sex and sexuality, these women were both brave and kind to have opened up and shared their stories and break that silence. Check out the next in this series, to be released on March 2, 2017!