Outrage as lawmaker calls for university virginity tests

A call by a member of the Egyptian parliament to subject female university applicants to virginity tests has outraged academics and women’s advocates in this conservative Middle East country.

MP Ilhami Agina made the call during an interview with a local newspaper, triggering demands for his expulsion from parliament.

“Any girl applying for university admission must undergo a medical examination to prove she is a maiden,” Agina told private newspaper Al Youm Al Saba last week. “Every girl must also submit an official document stating she is a maiden when she applies for university admission.”

Agina added that the move was aimed at ending unregistered secret marriages among university students in Egypt. Informal marriage is believed to be rife among young Egyptians who cannot afford the high costs of a registered union in terms of which the man has to buy an apartment and offer a gold dowry gift.

“On proving that any girl is a partner to the informal marriage or no longer a maiden, the university has to immediately inform the girl’s parents,” the lawmaker said in his controversial remarks.

Premarital sex is taboo in Egypt and a woman’s virginity is a matter of family honour. The loss of virginity before marriage means the woman risks social disgrace and even death in some rural areas in what are known as honour killings.

Cairo University, Egypt’s biggest academic institution, said it would file a complaint with the country’s chief prosecutor against Agina, accusing him of harming the reputation of female students.

“Such irresponsible statements are unacceptable and cannot be ignored,” the university’s president, Gaber Nassar, wrote on his Facebook page. “Let everyone know that law prevails in Egypt, bringing anyone to account,” said Nassar, who is a law professor.

Some students also decried Agina’s call.

“A woman’s body belongs to her, and not to the university or that Agina,” said Israa Ali, a law student at Ain Shams University, a state-run institution. “Such calls reflect a distorted, inferior view of women. There must be a strict stance by state institutions against these calls,” she said.

Minister of Higher Education Ashraf el-Sheehi dismissed the proposed college virginity tests as unacceptable.

“The university institutions reject any insult to Egyptian female students. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Egypt’s state-appointed National Council for Women said it has sued the lawmaker, allegedly for insulting the country’s women.

Several women members of parliament were reportedly pushing for a vote on dismissing Agina from the legislature. The assembly said it would question the lawmaker on his remarks.

Last week the embattled Agina tried to assuage his critics.

“It was a mere view and proposal,” he said. “If this proposal does not please citizens, let’s look for another solution to the phenomenon of informal marriages,” he told Egyptian private television station Al Asama.

It is not the first time Agina has caused controversy.

Earlier this year, he angered his female colleagues when he demanded they dress “decently” inside parliament. In September, he announced his support for the unlawful practice of female genital mutilation, claiming it controls women’s sexual desire.