Zulus Eagerly Defy Ban on Virginity Test
October 6, 2008
Last year, South Africa enacted a ban on virginity testing, a traditional practice condemned by human rights activists and feminists, for girls younger than 16. Despite the ban, the custom continues for thousands of Zulu girls, as many Zulus see in it the promise of abstinence until marriage and a way to prevent HIV.
"There are changes and developments in life, but that does not mean people have to change their culture," Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini told a crowd gathered recently for the annual reed dance. The king revived the dance in 1984. Girls must be virgins to participate, which is vouchsafed by testing.
The hymen can tear in many ways besides sexual contact, critics note. Girls are pressured to take the virginity test, the "public spectacle" of the procedure is degrading, and failing it means girls can be emotionally scarred and shunned, says South Africa's Commission for Gender Equality. Certifying virgins might also draw the attention of potential rapists who believe having sex with a virgin cures AIDS, said the commission.
But Zulu proponents of virginity testing say the practice is more important now in the country with the largest population of people living with HIV/AIDS. The practice is a culturally sanctioned abstinence campaign, and girls who do not pass can alert the community to child abuse, they say.
"It is important so that young girls become scared of boys," said Thobeleni Ntuli, who began testing her daughters and now offers the service to others, beginning for most girls when they are nine years old. "Because what happens is first the boys strip you of your virginity, and the next thing you know is you are pregnant and you have HIV."
If nothing else, the ban gives legal backing to girls who wish to opt out of the practice, said Nombosino Gasa, the Gender Equality commission's chair.
09.26.2008; Karin Brulliard
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.