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Home Office ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’ set to criminalise Virginity Testing

21st July 2021

Karma Nirvana is the longest established specialist charity dedicated to supporting victims and survivors of Honour Based Abuse. For close to three decades, we have led the campaign against Honour Based Abuse, supporting, educating, and empowering all those impacted to live abuse-free. Last year, Karma nirvana launched their #VirginityMyths campaign to end Virginity Testing and Hymenoplasty across the UK.

Karma Nirvana welcomes the inclusion of criminalising Virginity Testing in the governments ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’. We recognise Virginity Testing as a form of Violence Against Women and Girls, which is both cause and consequence of gender inequality. This is the first VAWG strategy to acknowledge this harmful practice, and we look forward to working closely with the government in this important progressive step.

Both Virginity Testing and Hymenoplasty are forms of Violence Against Women and Girls and amount to highly invasive, degrading and de-humanising treatment. The World Health Organisation recognises Virginity Testing to violate Human Rights and supports government initiatives to eliminate this practice globally.

Whilst we welcome the government plan to criminalise Virginity Testing, we are keen to understand the detail of how the government intend for this to take shape and whether this also includes the banning of Hymenoplasty. It is evident in the calls received to the national Honour Based Abuse Helpline that the two issues are inextricably linked. We are concerned that the positive steps to criminalise Virginity Testing will be compromised if Hymenoplasty is not also banned. Hymenoplasty is being undertaken in the same private clinics that offer Virginity Testing; both issues are driven by profit over the need to safeguard and protect women and girls from this clear human rights violation.

In November 2020, Karma Nirvana worked with the BBC to investigate Virginity Testing and Hymenoplasty in the UK. The investigation identified 21 clinics that would carry out hymen-repair surgery, costing in the region of £1,300 – £3,000. Data from NHS England shows 69 hymen-repair procedures have been carried out in the past five years.

It is widely recognised that Hymenoplasty is non-essential surgery. There is no medical or physical need for a woman or girl to have this surgical procedure. At Karma Nirvana, many callers to the national helpline report feeling coerced into having Hymenoplasty. In our experience, women and girls are often driven to have the procedure out of fear of being judged for ‘breaching’ an ‘honour code’, a consequence of which can lead to Honour Based Abuse, including an honour killing. Heshu Yones, whose death in 2002 was the first UK murder to be recognised by police as an honour killing, was killed by her father after allegedly failing a virginity test. We feel strongly that all forms of Honour Based Abuse, driven by a repressive approach to female sexuality, need to be called out. Hymenoplasty cannot be perceived as a ‘protective’ safeguard, as it does not challenge harmful ideologies linked to ‘virginity’, putting women and girls at risk.

We look forward to working closely with the government on tackling all harms connected to the concept of virginity, including the criminalisation of Hymenoplasty.