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Virginity of women in Iran: They need a certificate to get married

Virginity of women in Iran: They need a certificate to get married

N Melo
by N Melo
August 16, 2022 0

Virginity of women in Iran: They need a certificate to get married

In Iran, virginity before marriage is important to many girls and their families. Sometimes men demand a virginity certificate – a practice that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers against human rights. But for the past year, more and more people have been campaigning against this practice.

“You tricked me into marrying you because you are not a virgin. No one will marry you if they know the truth”.

That’s what Maryam’s husband told her after they had sex for the first time.

She tried to reassure him by telling him that although she hadn’t bled, she had never had sex before. But he didn’t believe her and asked her to

This situation is not uncommon in Iran. After getting engaged, many women go to the doctor and do a test that proves they’ve never had sex.

However, according to the WHO, virginity tests have no scientific value.

Maryam’s certificate stated that her hymen was of the “elastic” type. This means she might not bleed after penetrative sex.

“It hurt my pride. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but my husband kept insulting me , ” she says. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took pills and tried to kill myself.”

Just in time, she was taken to a hospital and survived.

“I will never forget those dark days. I lost 20 kg during that time.”

Growing calls to end this practice
Maryam’s story is the reality for many women in Iran. Being a virgin before marriage is still crucial for many girls and their families. It is a value that is deeply rooted in cultural conservatism.

But recently things have started to change. Across the country, women and men are campaigning to end virginity testing.

Last November, an online petition received nearly 25,000 signatures in the space of a month. It was the first time that the virginity test was openly contested by so many people in Iran.

“It’s a violation of privacy, and it’s humiliating,” Neda says.

When she was a 17-year-old student in Tehran,

“I panicked. I was terrified of what would happen if my family found out.”

So Neda decided to repair her hymen.

Technically, this procedure is not illegal – but it has dangerous social implications, so no hospital agrees to perform it.

So Neda found a private clinic that would perform it in secret – at a high price.

“I spent all my savings. I sold my laptop, my mobile phone and my gold jewelry,” she says.

She had to sign a document to take full responsibility if something went wrong.

A midwife then performed the operation. It lasted about 40 minutes.

“I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t move my legs,” she recalls.

She hid the affair from her parents.

“I felt very alone. But I think the fear of them finding out helped me to tolerate the pain.”

In the end, the ordeal Neda endured was for naught.

A year later, she met someone who wanted to marry her. But when they had sex, she didn’t bleed. The intervention had failed.

“My boyfriend accused me of trying to trick him into getting married. He said I was a liar and he left me.”

family pressure
Although the WHO has denounced virginity testing as unethical and lacking in scientific value, the practice is still practiced in several countries, including Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey.

The Iranian Medical Organization maintains that it only performs virginity tests in specific circumstances – such as court cases and rape charges.

However, most requests for virginity certificates come from couples who intend to marry. They therefore go to private clinics, often accompanied by their mother.

A gynecologist or midwife will perform a test and issue a certificate. This will include the woman’s full name, her father’s name, national identity card and sometimes her photo. It will describe the state of her hymen and contain the following statement: “This girl appears to be a virgin.”

In more conservative families, the document will be signed by two witnesses, usually the mothers.

Doctor Fariba has been issuing certificates for years. She admits it is a humiliating practice, but thinks it actually helps many women.

“They are under such pressure from their family. Sometimes I verbally lie for the couple. If they slept together and want to get married,

But for many men, marrying a virgin remains fundamental.

“If a girl loses her virginity before marriage, she cannot be trusted. She might leave her husband for another man,” said Ali, a 34-year-old electrician from Shiraz.

He says he had sex with ten girls. “I couldn’t resist,” he says.

Ali acknowledges that there are double standards in Iranian society, but he sees no reason to break with tradition.

“Social norms accept that men have more freedom than women”.

Ali’s view is shared by many people, especially in more rural and conservative parts of Iran.

Despite growing protests against virginity testing, given that the notion is so deeply embedded in Iranian culture, many believe a total ban on the practice by the government and lawmakers is unlikely anytime soon.

A hope for the future
Four years after trying to end her life and living with an abusive husband, Maryam was finally able to get a divorce through the courts.

She became single only a few weeks ago.

“It’s going to be very difficult to trust a man again,” she says. “I don’t see myself getting married in the near future.”

Like tens of thousands of other women, she has also signed one of the growing online petitions to end the issuance of virginity certificates.

Although she expects nothing to change soon, maybe not even in her lifetime, she believes that one day women will achieve more equality in her country.

“I’m sure it will happen one day. I hope in the future no girl has to go through what I went through.”

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