Hymenoplasty Matters Campaign
What is Hymenoplasty (Hymen Repair Surgery)?
While the practice is not a new phenomenon, it is only in recent years that hymenoplasty services have increased in number in the UK. An investigation conducted by The Sunday Times has uncovered that a minimum of 22 clinics were offering hymenoplasty in London alone, with patients traveling from abroad for the surgery. The procedure itself is entirely cosmetic (giving the illusion of an unbroken hymen), takes less than an hour, and is performed under local anaesthetic. Although hymenoplasty is popular within different communities, the demographic is largely Muslim, with some private clinics charging up to £3,000 while luring in patients with advertisements that promise to “restore your innocence” or to “become a virgin again!” With an estimated 9,000 people searching for the procedure on Google (2019), it has become apparent that the virginity myth is not going anywhere. Hymenoplasty is more in demand than ever, with the number of requests quadrupling in the last six years as reported by the director of the MAS Gynaecology clinic (Daily Metro).
Why is this happening? Who is it affecting?
The topic of virginity is only ever centred around women partly because of the false understanding that the hymen is an accurate indicator of virginity. In reality, this rule is used to control women and their bodies under an incorrect notion that has been scientifically disproved. Because of this, the sexual freedom of our women is crushed and controlled by men who do not participate in this sexual abstinence.
What these clinics have discovered is an ever existing obsession with female virginity, particularly in Muslim communities. According to Islamic customs, it is still highly expected that Muslim women should be virgins before marriage. UK clinics are exploiting the vulnerability of Muslim women within these communities by charging extortionate rates for a surgery that shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
There is also an issue of consent to these barbaric practices. Hymenoplasty is not a surgery that any woman would willingly undergo. Regardless of direct familial pressure, the consequences that women face if it is found that they are no longer virgins before marriage are reason enough for a woman to opt for hymenoplasty; the beliefs that she has been indoctrinated with since childhood, the shame and dishonour that she will bring to her family if it is discovered that she is no longer a virgin, is enough pressure to force herself to resort to this practice, whether she wants to or not. If it is found that she is not a virgin, then at best, she will suffer the risk of humiliation and embarrassment from her family, her husband and his family, as well as the whole community. At worst, if the woman’s lack of virginity is cause for the breakdown of a marriage or engagement, she is sent back to her family disgraced and is either disowned and casted out, or she becomes a victim of an honour killing at the hands of her own father, brothers, and uncles.
The Regency Clinic is the first clinic to appear in Google's search results.They advertise their hymenoplasty services with the phrase 'Become a Virgin Again.' They declined to comment on their advertising technique when they were approached by The Sunday Times.
'I was so alone - I didn't know anyone who could support me. No one in my family knew about how far I went in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. Then I remembered that when I was a Uni, girl would talk about a special kind of surgery. I was terrified, but I didn't have a choice.'
Anonymous, 39 years old
Artificial hymen kits can be found online.
MEWSo's campaign: fixing the source, not the symptom
Posters from the World Health Organisation as part of their campaign to ban Virginity Testing.
'These women who have been forced to undergo hymenoplasty, are reduced to nothing more than an object to be desired, rather a human being.'
Banning hymenoplasty is not enough. We at MEWSo want to challenge this belief and hopefully live in a society which does not equate a woman’s worth to her virginity. MEWSo’s Executive Director, Halaleh Taheri has participated in several interviews around this topic, with the BBC, The Sunday Times, Dazed Beauty, and even the French publication Le Figaro, to name a few. MEWSo believes that before we can ban hymenoplasty, we should first ban the virginity tests that are still being conducted around the country. Despite condemnation from the UN Human Rights, UN Women's Rights, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), classifying virginity testing as violence against women in October 2018, women are still being forced by their families and their fiancé’s families to provide a certificate of virginity from their doctors before their wedding day. Such practices have absolutely no benefit and would never be considered by the woman in question. Virginity testing is just another method that allows men full control over female sexuality. In this sense, hymen reconstruction becomes a sort of solution for these women who are forced to undergo virginity testing. In light of this, MEWSo is in the process of campaigning for accessible education around the hymen and female sexuality in general, as said by Halaleh Taheri:
Although we would like to eventually ban hymenoplasty, banning the practice without proper education will only do more harm than good. The only reason these practices are in business is because of this backward mentality concerning virginity. If we were to help educate our communities and to reverse this belief, then there would be no need for hymen reconstruction. It would go out of business on its own. Banning these practices without adequate education will only force these poor women to resort to clandestine practices which will expose them to even greater risks in terms of hygiene, as we’ve seen with abortion.
Banning hymenoplasty, while allowing virginity testing to continue, runs the risk of hurting the women many feminist organisations are trying to help. MEWSo believe that education, as opposed to senseless banning, would be providing more help to our communities since we would be looking at our society's long-term trajectory, not short-term satisfaction. To take this a step further, MEWSo urges the Department of Education to make sexual education a mandatory part of school curriculums in order for these archaic notions of virginity to have a chance of dying out within future generations. UK Laws and regulations should be implemented to all communities in the UK, with an emphasis on protecting BME women, who are the most vulnerable in our society, instead of leaving them in the hands of community faith leaders to treat them by their own customs. We hope that our actions will bring us a step closer to living in a society of equality, diversity, and compassion.
A snippet from a Guardian article published in 1979 about the barbaric virginity tests on Immigrants carried out by the government. The tests were banned just after this article was released. Virginity testing still continues despite this action.
Picture from the 2016 demonstration outside Capitol Hill, DC pushing for the Violence Against Women act. Demonstrators: National Organisation for Women (NOW).
'I would never, ever, do such a thing to my children. I try to teach them to live free.'
Anonymous, 40 years old
If you would like more information about our campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating or look at our vacancy page for volunteering options.