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Egyptian women to fight calls for 'mandatory virginity tests'

Egyptian women protest against the military council's 2011 virginity tests on women [AFP]

Date of publication: 2 October, 2016

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Egypt's National Council for Women has taken legal action against an MP who called for mandatory virginity tests for women students at university.

Egypt's top women's advocacy group has filed a complaint with the chief prosecutor against a lawmaker who called for mandatory virginity tests for women seeking university admission, local media has reported.

Maya Morsi, head of the National Council for Women, said she would demand the expulsion of Elhamy Agina from parliament, as well as a criminal investigation into his actions, according to Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm.

The controversial lawmaker is harming the reputation of Egypt and its women, she said.

Urfi marriages

Agina said in an interview last week that girls hoping to receive university education must undergo virginity tests to combat the proliferation of informal Urfi marriages among students.

Virtually expense free, Urfi marriages have become more popular in recent years due to high unemployment among youth and a shortage of affordable housing.

In addition, it is often used by young couples as a way of getting around religious prohibitions against premarital sex.

"Any girl who wishes to join university must undergo this test on a regular basis to prove that she is still a virgin," Agina said.

"She also must submit a document that she is still a virgin in order to be officially admitted to the university.

Agina said that if students "failed" the exam their parents would be notified.

"No one should be angry about this. If you're angry that means you're scared that your daughter is married behind your back," he said.

In Egypt, as in other conservative countries, a young woman's virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, the loss of which could prevent her from getting married or worse.

Agina has recently gotten himself into hot water over comments that women should undergo female genital mutilation as a concession to male "sexual weakness".

"If we stop carrying out FGM, we will need strong men, and we do not have men of that sort," he said last month.

In Egypt, as in other conservative, Muslim countries, a young woman's virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, the loss of which could prevent her from getting married.

His latest comments have also been widely criticised by fellow lawmakers and religious figures.

'Family honour'

MP and Islamic law professor Amna Nosseir described Agina's remarks as "an insult to women and public manners in Egypt".

"I hope that parliament will move this time to take a serious and firm stand against Agina, discipline him and stem the tide of his statements, which might convey a bad message about Egypt's parliament," she told reporters.

"I wish he had a shred of decency or wisdom… and would stop waging war against the honour of Egyptian girls and women."

Islamic cleric Mazhar Shaheen wrote on Facebook that Agina should be forced to take a medical exam to ensure he was "mentally capable".

"Either this guy really wants to become famous or is suffering from sexual obsession," the preacher said.

Agina countered his detractors on Thursday during a phone in with a local satellite channel.

"If Egyptian don't like my suggestion, they should try to find other ways to curb the problems facing our society," he said.

His comments also provoked outrage on social media, with some users questioning his sanity and others demanding his prosecution and expulsion from parliament.

In March 2011, during the popular uprising that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, several detained women protesters were subjected to "virginity tests" by a military doctor.

An Egyptian court later ruled that conducting virginity tests on women in detention was "an illegal act and a violation of women's rights".

However, in March 2012, the only military doctor charged in the "virginity tests" trial was acquitted.

Human Rights Watch has called on governments to end the degrading, discriminatory and unscientific test of women and girls.

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