Thandeka Moyo, Chronicle Reporter
GENDER activists yesterday rounded up on an MDC-T Senator who said Zimbabwe should go back to its culture of testing girls for virginity.
The opposition party’s Masvingo Senator Misheck Marava said this while debating a motion on the eradication of early child marriages on Wednesday.
Senator Marava said virginity testing would discourage child marriages.
“Does our law allow our children to have sex before 18 years and then get married at 18 years? I think we are ignoring our culture of testing the virginity of our young girls because it was very important. If it is found that they have lost their virginity, they should be asked and quizzed until they reveal the one who deflowered them. That person should be convicted because they will be aware that the children are still under age,” he said.
“If we say people should be prosecuted when they commit crime at 18 years, to apply the laws is very difficult. A law which is not applicable is very difficult and that is not a law. The perpetrators will ask that if a person is 18 years, is she supposed to get married even if she is no longer a virgin – they would want to know. For example, in South Africa, the law says that the age of majority, even if it is 18 years, if a girl child is sexually active between 14 and 16 years, it means she is now of age.”
The Senator said that would allow girls to grow up properly.
“We should go back to our rural ways which helped us to mould our culture. There is no one who can help us except the chiefs. Our culture and tradition was very effective. Men were afraid of the girl child because they feared to be called to the chief’s court and be convicted of impregnating a girl. These days, men can even make arrangements to go and speak with the girl’s family. I know we once said that even those who accept lobola should be prosecuted but for someone to accept lobola, it means something wrong has been done. So why should we allow something wrong to happen,” he said.
However, gender activists expressed shock at the Senator’s push for virginity testing.
They said the Senator lacks an appreciation of human rights citing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which Zimbabwe is signatory to and other human rights treaties that prohibit discrimination against women.
The activists said virginity testing constitutes discrimination against women as it has the effect of denying women their rights on the same basis of equality with men.
Ms Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, the Executive Director & Founder of Tag a Life International (TaLI), said virginity testing is one act that the United Nations World Health Organisation classifies as ‘Degrading, discriminatory, and unscientific’.
She said the WHO Handbook for Health care for women has encouraged Governments to end this practice.
“To hear a legislator instead calling for the perpetuation of discrimination of the rights of girls and young women in such a manner says a lot about the competencies and ignorance that some of our legislators have regarding basic human rights and well-being of women,” said Ms Mashayamombe.
“If the same legislator paid attention to the plight of women and girls, he would know that this practice brings shame to girls who are found not virgins, and even unnecessary attention to those found virgins, violates their privacy and exposes them to infections as the methods used are not clinical. The practice also is an act of discrimination against girls as boys do not go through the same and in many ways suggests that girls are the only ones responsible for their own protection as we check their virginity in a manner to hold them accountable.”
She said while the legislator may in his unrealistic mind think that it is a way of holding men accountable, it brings torture and shame to girls and has never worked.
“Instead girls have been laughed at and tagged unmarriable material when found not virgins, and the same society never holds the man actually accountable,” Ms Mashayamombe said.
Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC) director Mrs Virginia Muwanigwa said virginity testing has been alleged to expose virgins to sexual abuse under the myth that they help cure men living with HIV.
“Parading virgins therefore makes them vulnerable. The Domestic Violence Act and the Zimbabwe Constitution outlaw adverse cultural practices such as virginity testing. These practices violate the rights of women and girls,” said Mrs Muwanigwa.