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. How do young Egyptian women feel about this? To find out I spoke to some of them in this series of monologues. In our third week, we have Yara, a writer:
“I don’t think anybody tried to teach me about my body when I was young. When I got my first period, I remember my mother telling me that I’m a woman now. And if I get married I’d have kids, so this means I should be careful and take care of myself.
I didn’t know much about my body until few years ago. I’ve never felt it is my own, and I wasn’t even comfortable with it. I have been trying to get rid of the shit that was implanted in my head for the last 20 years, but I can’t say I did completely. I still feel I have not regained my body completely.
People around me think it’s the end of the world if a girl loses her virginity, even most of my girl friends who are very well educated! A girl believes this is betrayal to her father, her brother and her family. A girl who does something like that is a girl with no morals, or stupid.
I know girls who ‘keep’ their virginity just because they’re afraid of the consequences; I think I’m one of them.
I believe the whole thing is completely stupid and unreasonable, yet I don’t have enough courage to do it. It’s a matter of life and death here.
Girls are being called whores for having pre-marital sex or for losing their virginity and many are forced to undergo virginity tests by their parents for stupid reasons.
There is this relative of mine whose parents only came to her house the day after she got married just to see the proof of her chastity (a piece of clothing with the hymen blood on it – it’s a kind of a tradition in Egypt that many people follow). They also gave it to her husband in case he wants to show it to his family. This makes me so angry every time I think about it!
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I don’t think this will change anytime soon. I mean, we should tell girls that they own their bodies and so on. But even those of us who already know that this is all bullshit and that our bodies are ours, we still can’t take it back completely. We can’t lie to ourselves. We are so few, and it’s the majority that get to make the rules.
So we live a double-life, wishing that fate doesn’t put us in a serious situation, forcing us to face our families or friends.”
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 9, 2017!