In September last year, Egyptian parliament member Elhamy Agina 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 honour, 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 Egyptian women feel about this, I spoke to some of them in this series of monologues. First up, a young editor, Leila:
“I don’t think anyone told me that some parts of your body are private or are yours, any attempts at self-exploring are frowned upon by your parents. They only explained my period to me when it happened, and about puberty they only said that you’re going to be shy of your body, which is normal.
My own parents think that it’s a disaster for a girl to lose her virginity, but they blame the boy too. However, if my parents find out that I have a friend who has lost her virginity, they will tell me to cut her off.
Most of the girls I know want to experience sex but they’re afraid it will change them forever and that they will lose friends or family, or be seen as ‘lesser’ women, or that they won’t be accepted by future partners, or they won’t be virtuous anymore.
I know about a girl who was actually raped, anally, by three guys, and her family didn’t sue the guys because the girl was still a virgin. So basically, there is no problem as long as the hymen doesn’t break.
I believe virginity is more related to society than it is to religion. Society is okay with boys having sex because they don’t have ‘virginity’, or more specifically, hymens. But girls, on the other hand, are treated as a commodity. It’s like buying a car, or something. They have to be new and unused by anyone else. Even many ‘liberal’ guys think that if a girl has sex with them this means they took something away from her.
If we want to change this we should explain to girls that sex goes both ways – it’s not something they give, it’s something they share with someone.
We also have to explain that virginity doesn’t define them – that they’re people with dreams and ambitions, and that they’re more than their bodies.
We should educate society on how religion is something private between a person and their God, and if we shouldn’t judge a person based on their religion, then it should be the same with virginity.
‘Virginity’ is just a stupid cultural rule that doesn’t make a person good or bad.”
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 February 23, 2017!