Degrading and Deadly Virginity Tests Plague Iraqi Women

Increasingly, Iraqi women are being forced by the courts to undergo a degrading – and oftentimes deadly – test to determine if they were virgins when they married. If a husband suspects that his new wife was not a virgin, he has the legal right to take her to court.

The court then orders a “virginity test,” which is performed by three doctors at the Medical Legal Institute (MLI). The Institute does not give the results reports back to woman, but only to the court.

A woman who is deemed not to have been a virgin is seen to have dishonored the family and may be killed by relatives. Her family must also repay the husband and his family for any gifts, money and/or expenditures of the wedding.

In an article written by the French news agency AFP, Dr Sami Dawood, a forensic doctor at the MLI who has been involved in the tests, is quoted as saying, "They think that during the marriage, (the) first day of marriage, there should be blood … they [mistakenly] think if there is no blood, there is no virginity."

Marianne Mollmann, senior policy adviser for Amnesty International, called virginity tests both wrong and ineffective. “"Even if it were legitimate to look at whether women were virgins for whatever reason, which it's not, you can't use a virginity test for that, because the hymen might break for any reason," Mollmann said.

Dawood concurred, saying that the knowledge of sexuality of the people requesting the test is "very poor." Dawood added that even though most of the tests show that the woman is a virgin, the test “by itself [is] shaming."

"If it is proved that the woman was not virgin and sought to get married without telling the man, there is no law that protects her," says lawyer Ali Awad Kurdi.

It is also not uncommon for the husband to make such a claim against his wife to cover up for his embarrassment at having a sexual dysfunction. Dr Munjid al-Rezali, MLI director, explained that while the majority of cases involved just the wife, the husband may also be tested, noting that a man with erectile dysfunction may pretend that the woman was not a virgin to hide his shame.