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Five reasons why sex work should be decriminalized.

Decriminalizing sex work is very important in the fight for the equality of all women. Sex workers are among the most vulnerable groups of people in the world and the Criminalization of prostitution[1] is very dehumanizing to them and it puts them at higher risk of abuse from clients and society.

This post is inspired by the stories I grew up hearing about sex workers and their clients and situations involving sex workers that I have witnessed. About one year ago, I attended a two-day workshop at a hotel and after our first night everyone was talking about an altercation involving a sex worker and her client the night before. Apparently, the man (the client) refused to pay the woman (the sex worker) the amount they agreed on and the woman insisted that he pay her exactly what they agreed on which he refused. The hotel staff intervened and told the woman to take what he gave her. However, she insisted that it was her right to be paid but she was told to take the money and leave because she had no rights.

I have heard similar stories over the years about how sex workers “have no rights”. Stories of sex workers who got physically assaulted by their clients whilst people just stood and watched because of the notion that, if she was not “selling herself” it would not have happened to her. I have also witnessed situations where women who were accused of being sex workers were publicly shamed and called names

Here are five reasons why sex work should be decriminalized:

The criminalization of sex work dehumanizes the sex worker: Sex workers already face discrimination and stigma in society. They are viewed as people who have no dignity and are not deserving of respect or rights. The laws criminalizing sex work contribute to the dehumanization of sex workers on some level. People feel that they are justified to abuse and shame sex workers because “what they are doing is not just immoral, it’s criminal”.

Secondly, when society recognizes only one narrative and applies it to all sex workers, it has a very dehumanizing effect, and the fact that it is criminal is not helping. Society fails to recognize the fact that sex workers are people with individual stories and experiences. People get in to prostitution for different reasons and the story is not always “she wants cheap money” or “she is lazy”. Sometimes the story is, she was abused as a child and prostitution is the only way she asserts ownership of her body or prostitution is the only route she sees out of poverty or it is the way she feeds herself and her family. The point is, there is no one story.

Dehumanizing any person or group of people is the worst thing that can be done because when we take a person’s story away from them and paint them as just one thing, we somehow say that it is justifiable to do things to them that we would not normally do to other people because they are “less human”. This is demonstrated in the way society treats sex workers and that is why people are so quick to say that “they have no rights”.

 

Decriminalization of sex work is the best way to protect sex worker from violence and abuse. We cannot talk about protecting women from violence and abuse without talking about all women including sex workers. Protecting women from violence and abuse cannot be done without the full decriminalization of sex work. According to research Carried out among two hundred and fifty one female sex workers in Gambia in 2011 on Sexual Violence against Female Sex Workers, 29% of the female sex workers stated that clients forced them to have sex[2]

Sex workers face the danger of being physically abused by clients and because sex work is criminalized in The Gambia it is very unlikely that a sex worker would report abuse she endured from a client. Thus, some men feel that they can abuse these women with impunity and they often get away with it, Just like how the man who refused to pay the woman what they agreed on got away with it.

Furthermore, the laws pushes sex workers and those soliciting sex to quieter and more isolated places were sex workers would be at higher risk of being abused by clients.

They need to be part of the conversation on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

All men and women need to be part of the conversation on HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The criminalization of sex work pushes sex workers further underground and makes them unreachable to activist and health workers. However, if sex work is decriminalized they would be more reachable. Specialized community outreach programs can be done targeting sex workers on how they can protect themselves from HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. It is very important that sex workers get out of hiding for their health and well-being but the first step is removing the fear of persecution.

Human Trafficking

Decriminalizing sex work is not decriminalizing human trafficking. Human Trafficking is a terrible human rights violation and all efforts must be done to stop the practice. It is very important to differentiate sex workers who get into the practices voluntary and those who get in the practice as a result of coercion. Even though some sex workers get in to prostitution as a result of human trafficking, not all sex workers were trafficked. Sex workers should be able to run (yes, run) to the police for protection without the fear of being arrested for prostitutio

In several African countries soliciting sex from sex workers, brothel keeping, and prostitution in general is criminalized in some form directly or indirectly. In the Gambia, procuring, brothels, male persons who knowing live on the earnings of sex workers or solicit in public for immoral purposes, and females who live on the earnings of prostitution who exercise control, direction or influence over the movement of sex workers are all criminalized. Furthermore, a sex worker acting in a disorderly or indecent manner in public is considered to be idle and disorderly , and liable to a fine and or imprisonment.

The main reason why many states criminalize sex work is to stop women from getting in to prostitution, however criminalization as a means of deterrence has not worked. If states are so concerned about stopping prostitution what they should focus on is dealing with some of the situations that compel women to get in to prostitution. Of course, decriminalization is not going to automatically rid sex workers of all risk of violence and abuse but it will create options for sex workers which can make them safer.

If sex work is decriminalized, sex workers would have several options at their disposal. They would have the option to negotiate with their clients in more open and safer places. They would have the option to report abuse they suffer from clients or other individuals without fear of persecution. They would have the option of getting information about their health and well-being from NGO’s, Civil Society Organizations, Health Organizations, Health personnel etc.

Furthermore, decriminalizing sex work could potentially reduce the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face. If members of the public know that sex workers are not considered “criminals”, and if anyone commits a crime against them they would be held accountable, I believe that will be a good first step towards fighting the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face and changing the perception of people towards them.

There is a general misconception that there are only female sex workers, however the sex work industry does not only consist of women, there are male sex workers too. Even though, this article is focused on female sex workers and the specific issues that they deal with. I recognize the fact that the stories of male sex workers need to be heard and they need to be protected too.

 

[1] For the purpose of this article I will be using “sex work” and “prostitution” inter-changeable.

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276932951_Sexual_violence_against_female_sex_workers_in_The_Gambia_a_cross-sectional_examination_of_the_associations_between_victimization_and_reproductive_sexual_and_mental_health

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Rape culture: on cover ups, dress code, and victim blaming.

What was she doing there? Of course, she got raped, she is always dressed so “indecently”, She must have wanted it otherwise he would not have touched her, he is a good man he would never rape or molest anyone. Whenever there is a rape case there is always a sense of blame not against the perpetrator but against the victim. As a result of patriarchy, the victims of sex abuse are questioned, not believed, and blamed on some level for what happened to them. The immediate response to sex abuse usually is to silence the victim and protect the perpetrator.

When a girl is raped by a family member, protecting the “family name” is always the priority. How she feels, what she is going through, and the violation done to her body is not as important as protecting the good image of the family, actually it’s not even relevant.

The issue usually is that she is not a “virgin” anymore and people would know. I have a friend who, was raped by an uncle when she was ten years old; she told me about how her family had a meeting to discuss the issue and she was not allowed at the meeting, at the end they decided to “forgive him” because he is a good man and he “made a mistake”.

Yup!! Made a mistake!!! Like I said how she felt was not important, so of course, they thought that they could forgive him on her behalf. Similarly, I have another friend who said that her uncle would go to her room late at night and touch her inappropriately, when she reported the matter to her aunty she told her that she should lock the door of her room before she goes to bed, as if it was her fault that he was touching her because she did not lock her door.

Similarly, a neighbor burst out in anger when she had a fight with her husband, about how she is a “good wife” and she has done everything for her family including concealing the fact that her husband raped the girl who used to stay with them.
I could go on and on with stories of rape, molestation, abuse, and survival because Most of the women I know have their own #metoo moment or moments or they are actually living the #metoo life right now. The point is, there is an overwhelming desire to protect families, institutions, and organization over seeking justice for the survivors of sex abuse.

It has been recently discovered that over 1000 children were abused by “300 Catholic priest, officials, teachers, and clergy over a period of more than seventy years” in The United States of America, and some people tried to cover up the abuse.

Obviously, the children who were abused in Philadelphia were not a priority to the people who were trying to cover up the abuse, and stopping the abuse was not a priority either. Protecting the perpetrators of sex abuse and their organization was far more important to them, and it didn’t matter what these children were going through.

Over the years I have heard people give silly reasons to justify rape. The most common reason being “she got raped because of the way she was dressed”- the whole ideology behind this, is that men can’t control their sexual urges and they are naturally programmed to harass, rape, and “take” whatever they want. As a result, women need to avoid being the object of their sexual desires by covering up because a woman’s body is dangerous and tempting – of course, this is bullshit and this narrative is very unfair to all the men who find such behavior to be very repulsive.

Furthermore, rape has nothing to do with the dress code! Actually, policing the way women dress with the guise of “cover up so that you will not be raped” furthers the rape culture, when these things are said, it sends a message to men and boys that they are somehow justified in raping or harassing women and girls who fall short of society’s moral dress code, and some men and boys internalized these things.

On the point that “men can’t control their sexual urges”- Truth is, rape is not about sex, it is about power; it is as a result of a man’s need to his masculinity by dominating, controlling, and trying to subdue another.

Rape culture affects many women around the world. In many cultures women are required to limit themselves to avoid being raped.

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“Toubab Bu Nuille”: on African Feminisms.

I have been called “toubab” (white) so many times in my life, I honestly can’t keep count. This is due to many reasons but mainly because I identify as feminist. After my last blog post about society’s expectations of wives in The Gambia, that sealed the deal. I was definitely a “toubab” because, according to the people who approached me to talk about “my way of thinking” only a “toubab” would think like that because feminism is after all a western concept, it is not part of our culture.

This is not something new tho, throughout my adult life and part of my teens I have been called the above because of opinions I held on several issues. Ranging from the fact that I am of the opinion that everyone should be able to love who they want to love and marry who they want without fear of persecution or being treated differently because of their sexual orientation, abortion should be legalized etc.

I have been called a feminist many times in my life, I am a feminist, I have always been a feminist long before I knew the word. I didn’t claim the word or used it until a few years ago. For me it has always been about what is right, and what is wrong, and what did not make any sense at all to me. When I was 11years old or so I attended a public school, our school could not afford to have cleaners who would clean our class so, we had to do it our self’s. The girls in the class were divided in to groups and we had to take turns to sweep the class on different days of the week. But none of the boys were in any of the groups, only the girls were put in groups responsible for keeping the class clean. I remember asking why the boys were not in any of the groups, and I was told that it was a silly question to ask because boys are not supposed to sweep.

I like to tell this story because that was when I truly began questioning things happening around me. I didn’t ask the question because I regarded myself as a feminist, but because it felt wrong to me. It felt wrong that we all attended the same class (both boys and girls) and only the girls were supposed to sweep the class. That day, I learnt that the answers you get to your questions may not always be the right answers and just because you receive an answer does not mean that you should stop seeking more answers

The point is, even though I didn’t know the word feminist at that time; that was a bold feminist move. I didn’t have to be white to be a feminist, and I didn’t have to know the word feminist to be one. My grandmother; my mother’s mother was a very strong feminist woman, she died when I was nine years old, but stories of bravery and open rebellion against the patriarchy is a great source of inspiration to me. She was the first female taxi driver in The Gambia, this was a huge deal back then. A woman driving a taxi in the 70s, at a time where the belief that “the place of a woman is in the kitchen” was quite popular and very few women publicly challenging it in her community, She defied the system that told her that her place as a woman was at home and that she had no business doing a man’s job. I do not know if my grandmother knew the word ‘feminist” or if she ever used it, but the way she lived her life is testament to the fact that she was indeed a feminist.

My point is: brave women in Africa and around the world from time immemorial have been challenging and resisting a culture that told them that they were less human by virtue of being born female; engaging in open rebellion against a system that sought to silence the voices of women around the world. Of course “feminisms” is an English word but the fact that the word is in English does not diminish the struggles, the triumphs, and work that women and men across the globe from non-western cultures have put towards fighting for the liberation of all women, It does not invalidate the struggles of my grandmother who fought so hard to break gender stereotypes, it does not invalidate the struggles of men and women from across the world who are fighting very hard for gender justice in their communities, it does not invalidate my struggles or my work as a women rights activist. It does not invalidate me.

Honestly, it does not matter if a person knows the word feminist or not, what really matters is whether they embody the core feminist values, and are fighting towards gender justice in their communities. To me, a feminist is any person who has ever stood up, resisted, or rebelled against patriarchy, and brave African women have been doing that from time immemorial; they may not have carried labels or be captured in history in the way that the needed to be, but that does not trivialize or invalidate the truth of their struggle.

I understand that when people say that “feminisms is not African”, “feminisms is a western concept” it is supposed to shame us (women) into silence, and show us that we have somehow lost our way and deserve to be tamed. If I could say one thing to all African women, I will say this; Women! now more than ever is the time to remain unshamed, unsilenced, and most importantly untamed.
This is one of the many ways society tires to silence women. Culture has never been in favor of women, whenever people say “this is not our culture” mostly, It is to stop women from enjoying a right, or asking them to give up something, or just silence them.
What is even more troubling is that whenever someone speaks of the rights of a minority group they are immediately called “toubab” (white) as if recognizing, acknowledging, and respecting the rights of others is somehow foreign and un-African. Well, it’s not. Human rights are universal, the rights of all people should be respected regardless of which part of the world they live in.

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Note: on being a “good wife” in the Gambia.

You must obey your husband. You must keep his secrets. You must bear the pain he inflicts in secrete because that is where the blessings of your children would come from. Remember! A good wife, is a wife that would get beat up by her husband at night, and tell people she fell when asked what happened to her face. A good wife would provide for the family in secrete and pretend that her husband is the one providing for the family.

These are some of the things I hear people tell new brides, and I have been told that I would have to do if I ever get married (that is if I want to be considered a good wife). I have a neighbor, who beats and humiliates his wife, publicly. The wife is praised by both men and women. She is referred to as an exemplary woman because regardless of how badly her husband treats her, she never talks back at him or complain about the physical abuse she endures. She is the “Perfect” Gambian wife, she let’s go of her dreams, aspirations, and what little independence she had and commits to serving her husband. She takes the slaps, the punches, and the kicks without complain. She quits her job because her husband does not want her to work, she takes care of the family and all that comes in between without complain.

Generally, this is what is expected of a wife in The Gambia. The first thing I hear people tell new brides is “sey mung la” (marriage is about bearing pain). Your worth as a woman and a wife is measured by how much pain you can take. That is why when women are in abusive marriages, society encourages them to stay in these relationships and when they do, society applauds them. The pain you endure is seen as an investment to the future of your children.

Women are convinced that the blessing of their children is dependent on how much pain they can take in silence. I have witnessed on several occasions, people try to encourage women to stay in abusive marriages “for the sake of the children”. Similarly, I have heard many women who are in abusive marriages, say that they stay in these abusive marriages “for the sake of the children”. This is society’s way of making women feel that they have to stay in abusive marriages; if women belief that enduring both physical and emotion abuse from their husbands, somehow contributes to the future of their children and may determine whether their children will succeed in life or not. Ultimately, some women will stay in abusive situations and sacrifice their happiness, as well as endure all that is thrown at them for their children.

As a society we have somehow normalized domestic violence especially between husband and wife. Violence towards women is never justified (yes! even if she is your wife). But, society has a way of making women feel that it is their fault that they are being abused by their husbands. Women are told to be silent when he is angry, to dress better, to cook better, to always ask for his permission before going out, and change all that he wants them to change.

Women are expected to change almost everything about themselves upon marriage for example if she is a very outgoing person, she would be expected to stop being so out going. If the way she dress does not fit in societies narrow definition of what is considered moral, she would be expected to change the way she dress. If she works, and her husband does not feel comfortable with her working, she would be expected to quit her job as long as he can provide for the family (especially if he is rich).

This is an outrageous double standard, women are expected to change all that is undesired by their husband and adjust to what he wants them to be, while the husband is expected to change barely anything and, In the exceptional cases where the husband is expected to change something upon marriage “he is a man” is usually a justification when he does not change that but, “she is a woman” is never a justification when a woman fails to adjust to what is expected of her upon marriage.

The man should be the one to have all or almost all of the economic control in the marriage. I have been told by both men and women that I should work hard but not too hard because if I have “too much” money I would never get married, because no man would want to marry a woman richer than him. Similarly, I have heard men say they would never marry a rich woman because a rich woman would “disrespect them”. When men say that a rich woman would disrespect them, usually what they mean is that; she would actually have a voice in their relationship and refuse to conform to the traditional gender roles. Growing up I have seen many women who quit their jobs upon marriage because their husbands insisted that they do.

This feeds to the narrative that women are supposed to be controlled by their husbands; the person who is responsible for most of your financial needs, will definitely have a certain degree of control over you. Furthermore, if women depend on their husbands financially for everything, it makes it harder to leave when things get unbearable.

All women are born whole and worthy. Our worth as women should come from our character not our gender. As women we should be at liberty to choose what is important to us and, be who we choose to be; not society telling us what should be important to us and who we should be.

Each woman should decide what her character should be without being pressured to conform to the patriarchal gender roles, just like each woman should decide what being a woman means to them. In a nutshell, every woman should have the freedom to choose how she wants to live her life.

Marriage as we know it stems from a long-standing tradition of institutionalized patriarchy, which basically perceives the wife as the property of the husband. The Use of pain, obedience, and submissiveness as a yard stick to measure the worth of a woman in a marriage, further enforces the patriarchy.

Women are expected to keep the secrets of men, even when those secrets are abuse that they endure, Bell hooks puts it perfectly in her book when she says “we are not allowed in this culture to speak the truth about what relationships with men are really like….. To be true to patriarchy, we are all taught that we must keep men’s secrets”[1]

This is true and it reflect The Gambian society to a great extent, from childhood women are taught to keep the secrets of men. One of the things that wives must do is “sutura” (keep the secret of their homes). Other people must not know what women really face in their in their homes. Women are supposed to find pride in keeping the secrets of their husbands, regardless of what those secrets are.

This is quite problematic because this is the “system’s” way of ensuring its longevity. Mothers teach their daughters to endure the pain imposed on them by men in silence and secrete, as they have been taught by their mothers and the cycle continues.

Marriage can be a great source of love and happiness, but the social rules governing marriage are deeply rooted in a system that punished women and girls for their gender. It is time to change the rules governing marriage to fit the needs of both genders and protect the dignity of both men and women.

It is time to change #changetheculture .

[1] The Will to change: Men, Masculinity, and love as emphasized by a Terrance Real.

Bantaba, on the importance of youth and women participation in politics.

Had an amazing day, discussing the importance of women and youth participation in politics.

The importance of women and youth participation in politics cannot be over emphasised. The participation of women in politics, is essential for the advancement of the ratio of women in leadership position, if more women are in leadership positions it would help in combating negative gender stereotypes.

Moreover, the participation of women in the economic, social and political affairs of the state is important for the development and advancement of women.

The youths are the future, ( yeah I know this is over used, but its true). The youths face many issues, but some of these issues may go unheard or may not be represented the way we want them to be represented.

The best way to deal with this is to vote for the people we belief would present the issues affecting us , the best or young people could also contest in elections, and bring fresh ideas on how to deal with today’s issues.

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Women and internalized sexism/ misogyny in The Gambia

When we discuss Sexism and Misogyny in the Gambia, we approached the subjects from the perspecti ve of the opposite’s sex’s attitude towards women. We speak of how men have always had power, privilege and access while women have little or no noticeable access or power. While this is true, it is also very important to discuss, as women, the sexist behaviors and attitudes we portray to ourselves and other women, and why. Thus, it is important that we (women and women’s rights organizations) recognize and acknowledge, as well take action to stop internalize sexism and misogyny.

Internalized sexism/misogyny is when women and girls involuntarily belief the misconceptions, myths, lies and stereotypes about women and girls that society tells everyone in the society to be true.
It is very important to note that this is as a result of the way that women and girls are socialized . From birth boys and girls are exposed to the sexist and misogynistic messages that society tells everyone. They are told that women and girls are too weak, sensitive, and manipulative. Women are taught to be submissive, silent, and to see themselves as inferior.

These messages are not only limited to what is said verbally to women and girls, but it also includes the nonverbal messages that we are exposed to. The advertisements on the media, the movies we watch, the music we listen to and our traditions and culture all have a role to play e.g. In the Gambia, in certain tribes when a woman is greeting a man or giving water to a man she should kneel, the justification given for this is that; it is a sign of “respect”.

However, it goes deeper than that, this small act of kneeling while giving water or greeting a man is another way of telling women and girls to be submissive. Thus, nonverbal messages such as this also play a great role in how we perceive things. Furthermore, it is important to note that, even though generally all women and girls in the society are exposed to these messages, the way we react to them may differ. However, the fact remains, we are all affected by these messages regardless of how we react to them.

Women spend their entire lives hearing that, they should spend their lives in-services to men. Our society tells girls that they should learn how to cook, so that, their husbands would never go hungry. They should learn how to do laundry so that their husbands would always look neat. Our society tells little girls that the most important thing they could ever possible be is a “wife” so, if they do not get married they are “worthless”. As a result, some girls grow up aspiring for marriage only, because they believe that a wife is all they should be.

According to the 2010 Gambia Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 75 percent of women belief that it is justifiable for their husbands to beat them for one of many reasons, such as: neglecting their children (54.2%), going out without taking permission (53%), argue with their husbands (33.3%). Approximately 60% believe that their husbands have a right to beat them up if they refuse to have sex with them. While 14 percent of women belief that it is right for their husbands to beat them if they burn food.

This data clearly reflects our society and how violence against women, is used as a tool for male domination. The use of violence is paramount in a patriarchal society, to maintain order and keep everyone in their place. Women are socialized to behave a certain way, and if they don’t, their husbands have a right to “discipline them” by hitting them, the same way fathers beat up their children, if they do not behave as expected. This is the message that is preached to girls as they grow in to women (in different forms). The system needs women and girls to belief that they are deserving of the “punishment” they receive from fathers and husbands, when they fall short of what is expected from them.
Girls are told to behave and do as they are told, so that they would not be beaten up; the same way women are told to do as they are told and behave as expected, so that they may not unearth the wrath of their husbands. This is just one example of internalized misogyny in the Gambia, violence is supposed to keep women in check, so we are told to be “good” and behave as expected or get punished. The data is evidence that a good number of women belief this.
As a result of being exposed to a lifetime of sexist/ misogynistic information boys and men take on their roles in the patriarchal society and protect their privilege at all cost, while women and girls belief the sexist and misogynistic information they have been exposed to and take on their prescribed roles in a patriarchal society.

Effects of Internalized sexism and misogyny
Internalized sexism/ misogyny can affect the way women view themselves and other women. It can be manifested by women miss trusting other women, doubting themselves and other women, demeaning themselves and other women. For the patriarchy to continue we must all belief the messages that we are told, so that it may be passed on from generation to generation. The greater effect of internalized sexism/ misogyny is ensuring the patriarchy lives on. If women belief that they are inferior and naturally manipulative, thus, making their oppression justified, it ensures that the same messages are passed on from mother to daughter and the cycle continues.
How to fight internalized sexism/ internalized misogyny
In other to combat internalized sexism/ internalized misogyny, the first step would be to accept that it exists. It may be easier to approach the subject from the perspective of how women have always been oppressed (rightfully so), but it is also very important for us (women) to recognize and accept that we also have a part to play in breaking the cycle and changing the status quo.
We (women and Women’s Rights Organizations) should include internalized sexism and misogyny in our advocacy, and come up with ways to identify and curb internalized sexism and misogyny.
Finally, we should change the way we raise children (both boys and girls). Boys internalize too. We all internalize, that is how the system thrives. We must continue to have the difficult conversations, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. We must take extra effort to recognize and unlearn the sexist and misogynistic messages that we have been exposed to our entire lives.

Further Reading
http://imaginenoborders.org/pdf/zines/UnderstandingPatriarchy.pdf
https://www.britannica.com/topic/sexism
http://www.culturalbridgestojustice.org/programs/sexism/internalized-sexism/
https://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com

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Virginity Testing in the Gambia

Testing a bride for virginity is a part of the culture of many tribes in The Gambia. This test usually involves checking whether the bride bleeds when she has sexual intercourse with her husband for the first time.[1] If she bleeds, she is deemed to be a virgin but if she does not bleed she is deemed to have engaged in pre-marital sex.

Women who pass the virginity test are regarded as “good women” who are “pure “and “worthy” of love and respect from their husbands and society at large. They are ‘celebrated’ and praised by family members and showered with gifts by the husband. On the other hand, society views women that do not pass the virginity test as immoral, promiscuous and “unworthy” of love and respect from their husbands and his family. Such women are scorned, humiliated and ridiculed by their own families for bringing ‘shame and dishonour’ on them.

This so called virginity test is faulty and discriminatory in many ways. In this article I will discuss how checking if women bleed when they have sexual intercourse for the first time is an inaccurate means of testing for virginity. I will also discuss how testing a woman for virginity is double standard, objectifies the female body, and promotes sexual inequality between the sexes.

The hymen is a membrane covering the opening of the vagina which leaves an opening for blood flow during menstruation. [2] There are different types of hymens; some may require surgical procedure to open the hymen.[3] It is very important to note that not all females are born with hymens.[4] The hymen can be broken by some other means not involving sexual intercourse e.g. riding a bicycle, falling etc[5]

There are several reasons why a woman may or may not bleed during sexual intercourse. A woman with a complete hymen can bleed when an erected penis penetrates the vagina[6].

Whether a woman bleeds during sexual intercourse or not is not an indication that it is her first sexual intercourse[7]. This is because women with complete hymens may not bleed when they have sexual intercourse for the first time due to stress or that the hymen wore out or they just don’t[8]. A woman who has never had sexual intercourse before may not bleed during sexual intercourse because her hymen may have broken through some other means.[9]

Women who had sexual intercourse before may bleed during sexual intercourse due to various reasons such as infection, dryness of the vagina, etc.[10] Thus, it is very important to note that there is no way to scientifically test women for virginity .Sex is different things to different people; for some people sex may not even involve penetration of the penis in to the vagina[11]. Thus virginity is a social construct, designed to control how and when women express their sexuality.

The issue however, is not how faulty the so called “virginity test” is. The issues are the fact that the test is done on women (in the first place), as a means of measuring the worth of a woman.

This is a double standard that society is so comfortable with. The groom is never tested for virginity (some will argue that a man cannot be tested for virginity that is why but neither can women). A man is never questioned for chastity or virginity. However girls are often advised to abstain from sexual intercourse until they get married so that their husbands can respect them, but boys are never advised to remain virgins so that their wives can respect them.

Women are asked to save their “vaginas” to earn their husbands’ respects but what part of the men’s body do they have to save to earn their wives respect? Men are viewed as being born deserving of respect from their wives regardless of how many sexual encounters they have had before marriage, while women need to stay “pure” and “untouched” for their husbands-to-be, so that they may be declared worthy.

This is very problematic because women are treated as “gifts” untouched and wrapped up for their husbands. From birth, women are prepared for one night, and that night determines who they are in the eyes of the society. What a woman has achieved or how far she has gone in her career is really not important, what really matters is whether she was a virgin upon marriage

Virginity test is another form of sexual objectification of the female body, because it equates the worth of a woman to her sexual function.[12]Women who bleed in their first sexual intercourse are worthy. Thus, being “pure” and “untouched” is where they get their worth from. This proves that the female body is a means of acquiring respect from her husband and the society at large. This so called virginity test portrays the female body as an object of sexual satisfaction only for the man that married her and as a result she should be untouched until a man marries her.

This is very problematic because it infers sexual inequality between men and women. The sexual desires of women are to be locked away only to be unlocked by marriage, while the same is not required of men. This so called test infers that women need permission from others regarding their own bodies. This test views the female body as a tool for male satisfaction and ignores women as sexual beings.

Conclusion

Scientifically there is no way to test women for virginity. Sex takes different form for different people; it may not necessarily involved penetration of the penis in to the vagina.

Virginity is a social construct geared towards controlling women, how they express their sexuality and with who. The practice needs to stop. It objectifies the female body, infers sexual inequality between the sexes, and represents a brooder societal problem which has a different standard for women regarding how they behave sexually. Society applauds men who have numerous sexual encounters while women are branded as ‘sluts’ and are shamed for not being “virgins” or having a child before marriage.

[1] In this article sexual intercourse refers to the penetration of the penis in to the vagina.

[6] Available at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity last visited 4th December, 2017.

[7] As above

[8] Available at https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/977.aspx?CategoryID=118&SubCategoryID=121 last visited 4th December, 2017.

[9] As above

[10] As Above

[11] Available at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity last visited 4th December, 2017.

[12]Available at https://books.apa.org/education/ce/sexual-objectification.pdf last visited 4th December, 2017.