When it comes to virginity and marriage, many cultures at home and abroad have, from time immemorial, paid special importance to the bride’s purity.
From wearing a white dress on their wedding day as a symbol of purity, to declaring whether or not they are virgins in the Islamic faith, as well as virginity testing, women and girls are being subjected to undue pressure to keep their virginity all in the name of ending up the perfect, pure bride.
While I’m not advocating for women, and men for that matter, to go and sleep around, the declaration of purity at the point of marriage seems to be something that should be between the bride and groom.
Take our local culture for instance, years ago, it was unheard of for a girl to meet a boy, say on a date, unaccompanied. In many communities, a bride was sought for the sons. A girl hardly came home with a man saying, “Dad, this is the man I want to be married to.”
The amount of dowry paid for a bride was determined by numerous factors with one of the main ones being her purity. Brides who were virgins fetched a higher bride price, to put it bluntly.
While these dating, courtship and dowry-payment rules have relaxed somehow in the modern age, some brides still have to undergo undue scrutiny and in public, at that.
In an article published in a local newspaper, it was stated that the Chief Kadhi was working towards scraping a section of the marriage certificate that required brides to declare whether or not they were virgins at the time of marriage.
Sheikh Ahmed Muhdhar termed the requirement as unfair since the same isn’t expected of the men. He explained that this declaration should remain “between couples”.
“It’s an aspect of my religion that I struggle with,” said Lutfiya, a muslim faithful, when interviewed by Eve.
“It’s very discriminatory because it’s only the girl put to question.”
In August 2019, a Bangladeshi court ruled that the term virgin, ‘kumari’ be removed from the marriage certificate.
According to KTN's Ahmed Bahajj, importance was placed on a daughter remaining a virgin because, should she be a virgin at the time of marriage, the value of the dowry would go up.
However, he does agree with Sheikh Muhdhar that the discussion should be between the man and woman and doesn’t need to be placed in the marriage certificate.
Where does this furore come from? Virginity testing, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a gynaecological test done to determine whether a girl has had vaginal intercourse, simply put, to determine if the hymen is still intact.
In the past, different cultures had different ways of testing virginity. Among the Bukusu for instance, the groom’s paternal grandmother slept in a corner of the newlywed couple’s hut so that she could report back on if the girl was a virgin or not. In other communities, this job was left to sex educators. The idea was that if the girl was a virgin at the point of marriage, there would be pain and bleeding when they had sex.
American rapper T.I recently came under fire when he declared that after each birthday he takes his daughter to the gynae to determine if she is still a virgin.
Women and girls are typically subjected to various tests to determine their “purity” including the two-finger test where fingers are inserted into the vagina and checking the hymen for tears or stretching. According to doctors, these tests can be inconclusive because the hymen isn’t necessarily the ultimate proof of virginity.
Various human rights groups have come forward saying that the tests, which are often done without the woman’s consent, are trauma-inducing, humiliating and painful, and are exposing the women to grievous harm both physically and psychologically.
The idea that a woman should remain pure, is not only sexist but demeaning of women. Why isn’t the woman’s word enough to know whether she is a virgin or not?
While there’s still emphasis being made to keep one’s virginity until marriage, the final decision should be left to the individual be they male or female. The declaration of virginity, then, should also be between the betrothed rather than made a matter of public record.Could men handle childbirth better than women?