Questions raised over French plan to ban ‘virginity assessments’ | France

In a speech on February 18, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the question of “certificates of virginity” in his campaign against so-called “Islamist separatism”.

“In the republic, you can’t ask for a virginity certificate to get married,” he said.

Worldwide, “certificates of virginity” can be issued after a doctor has verified that a patient’s hymen is intact and are sometimes used as a prerequisite for marriage.

Some groups, depending on their beliefs or culture, require women and girls to be “clean” before marriage and seek such tests as “evidence”.

The practice is banned in countries like Bangladesh, but legal in others like the United States.

The World Health Organization has confirmed that such “tests” are unscientific, violate human rights and have harmful consequences for those who take them.

French doctors and Muslim feminists are also against the practice, but some have spoken out against a ban, claiming it could harm women, while others have suggested that Macron and his government politicize the issue.

On September 6, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in an interview with Le Parisien that Macron’s upcoming separatism bill, expected to be submitted to parliament next month, would deal with certificates of virginity.

“Some doctors still dare to affirm that a woman is a virgin to permit religious marriage, even though the Council of the Order of Doctors has condemned these practices. Not only will we formally prohibit it, but we will also propose punishment, ”he said.

The next day, Ministerial Delegate Marlène Schiappa repeated the plan during an interview with RTL and described such tests as a “serious attack on citizenship and the dignity of women”.

The Interior Ministry said last month that doctors who issue certificates of virginity face a one-year prison sentence and a € 15,000 fine, according to an AFP report.

At the time of publication, the French Ministry of the Interior and the French Ministry of Health had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Little information is available on the spread of the practice in France, but some doctors have anecdotally said that there is very little demand for such certifications.

A statement co-signed by doctors, administrators and other advocates in Liberation last month condemned the practice as “barbaric, backward and completely sexist,” adding that it “fortunately is extremely rare and affects only a small number of patients “.

However, the signatories said that issuing such certificates could be essential for those who might face violence without them.

“What should shock public opinion is not that the doctor is issuing such a certificate with no legal value, but that the virginity requirement is still so prevalent in 2020,” the statement said.

French gynecologist Ghada Hatem told France Inter that she would be asked for such certificates no more than three times a year, but suggested that such documents would be needed by women who could very well suffer domestic violence without them.

Israël Nisand, president of the National College of French Gynecologists and Obstetricians, supports a ban and claims to receive requests for virginity certificates once a month. He has said the foundation of the practice is “patriarchy”.

Meanwhile, ANCIC, a French abortion organization, said in September that Schiappa and Darmanin “had the wrong goal of punishing health professionals.”

Some feminist and anti-racist groups say the government is politicizing the issue.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, the Muslim feminist organization Lallab denounced the practice as “sexist and humiliating” and suggested that it has a low prevalence in France.

But it added: “We don’t understand why this completely peripheral issue is high on France’s political agenda in defending women’s rights.”

Nta Rajel, a feminist collective from the North African diaspora, said: “Darmanin himself is the subject of a rape investigation, so the fate of women is not his concern.”

In June, a 2018 trial against Darmanin was reopened when a Paris appeals court ruled inadequate an earlier investigation into allegations that he had raped a woman. He claims their contact was consensual and accused the alleged victim of defamation.

Nta Rajel added, “It is obvious that we have to fight against this type of practice, but not by banning certificates we can help anyone because up until now the existence of these certificates has helped women who need them.” Statement read. “As usual, the issue of women was used for racist purposes.”

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