Soon, It Will Be illegal!
FANTASTIC NEWS: Virginity tests and Hymen Repair Surgeries will soon be illegal. Congratulations to all of us who have campaigned tirelessly for this, and to those equally concerned about the safety of our girls and young women.
Halaleh Taheri (right) lobbying Parliament, 2021
When I started this campaign back in 2019, I was constantly being asked: “Why bother about this issue. The community has no problem with it and they are doing it for their own good.”
My answer was always and will always be: “Because it is wrong.”
Not everything the community does is right. Practices like virginity tests and putting pressure on women to get their hymen stitched is physically and mentally harmful, against a woman’s will (no women would choose to do this to themselves if they were not being coerced or forced into it) and the practice is misogynistic. There is no such insistence that men be virgins before marriage!
Besides, it is our duty to be part of the change, to put women and girls safety first before custom and tradition.
At MEWSo, we gradually developed this campaign, built up interest and concern, and nurtured alliances with others to help spread the word. It’s been a tough journey.
Now, once this new law is passed, we expect the Government and statutory agencies like the police, the NHS, Social Services, schools and charities to be aware, and prepare how to communicate this information to the communities they serve, especially to those families and carers who care for young women and girls.
The role of schools in educating young girls is going to be particularly important, but so, too, will be the function of Social Services and the police in protecting them from such abuse and harm. Training professionals so they know more about harmful customs like these is key and needs to be implemented sooner rather than later.
In many conservative communities, procedures like virginity tests and hymen reconstruction have been practiced for many, many decades and follows centuries of belief that girls and women should be virgins before marriage. Mothers are made responsible for their daughters virginity. They were victims of this culture when they were young and now it’s the turn of their daughters. But it is on a father’s 'honour' to make sure his daughter is given to her next family ‘untouched’ and ‘pure’. If she is not, it is his duty to ‘fix’ the ‘shame’ of his family. This is what such customs dictate for many families.
It means the lives of girls and women, thought to have shamed their family, become intolerable. At best they are verbally abused, beaten or banished from the family, at worse they are sexually abused or killed. And all this is happening in Britain, today, right on our doorsteps. So, we have to put a stop to this.
The aim of our campaign was always to get virginity tests and hymen repair surgeries made illegal. Now that we have almost succeeded in this, we must ramp up our work with communities - talking to parents, young women and girls, and others of influence in communities - explaining to them how the new legislation will work, the rights of women to be safe, and that traditions and customs can no longer be followed blindly without thought.
We are no longer living in the dark ages. Families have to learn how to treat all of the members of their family fairly, including the women. And any who disagree must be challenged.
From the very beginning, MEWSo stressed that virginity tests and hymen reconstructive surgeries have done enough harm and damage to our young women, and that education is vital if we are to change such dangerous attitudes forever. We hope the new law is included in mandatory sex education classes for girls and boys, and that government and agencies help educate communities, too.
A change is coming and no matter what, MEWSo will continue to fight for change to protect vulnerable women and girls from harm.
However, to be truly effective requires the efforts of everyone. Only then can we hope to change attitudes and stamp out such dangerous practices for good.
By Halaleh Taheri
Founder & Executive Director of MEWSo