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 in this series of monologues. In our final week, we have Aisha, a musician:
“I didn’t know a lot about my body until very recently. I even learned about my period from classmates, not from my parents. But even then no one talked about female bodies precisely in school.
Most people around me think virginity is important and that they might not respect a girl if she loses it. But all my close friends think it’s ridiculous. Yes, I know lots of women who are only ‘keeping’ their virginity out of fear of the consequences. One of them is a woman who is over 50, since she’s never been married.
We can help girls by teaching them what they need to know about their bodies at a very early age. There are books for children and teenagers to help them learn all about that. It’s not new; we’re just far behind in Egypt, in this respect.
Parents, and mothers, especially, need to stop letting this ‘culture of shame’ control their girls’ way of thinking that affects the way these girls view themselves, whether directly or indirectly. By ‘culture of shame’ I mean, for example, blaming a girl for not wearing appropriate clothes, and so on. And those unprofessional so-called doctors need to stop giving girls opinions and false information about sex.
In Muslim wedding ceremonies, the bride’s guardian announces in front of everybody that she is ‘an adult’ and ‘a virgin.’ It’s not healthy to make a girl see herself unworthy or marriage or of becoming a mother unless she’s a virgin. And culture-related lies that are told to girls must be replaced with facts.”
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. This story concludes the series.