Myths And Dilemma Of The Controversial “Virginity Repair” Surgery

According to BBC News, appealing to outlaw “virginity repair” surgery in the U.K. has recently raised public concern. By reconstructing a layer of membrane at the entrance of the vagina, women could become virgins again. Boycott towards such a medical procedure may not be a newly emerging response. In 2019, the public criticized Amazon for selling productions called artificial hymen pills to India. The capsule with blood powder satisfies women’s demand on “blood for the first night.” Not long ago, the American rapper T.I. even claimed that he arranged yearly trips to the gynecologist and checked his daughter’s hymen.

Though critics from women’s rights campaigns could inspire the banning of “virginity repair” surgery, the relation between female and a “virginity identity” could still be a dilemma. In some cultures and religions, women lack equal rights to their fathers and husbands. Thus, the vagina has been a field indicating historical patriarchy yet.

The majority of patients are Muslim girls from the Middle East and Asia. They suffer from being outcast or even killed if found having sex before marriage. Halaleh Taheri, founder of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organization, escaped from Morocco to the U.K. in 2014 because of such fear and anxiety. Breaking the hymen can be a disgrace damaging the reputation of Taheri’s family. As a vulnerable victim, surgery may be the only strategy to save herself. Thus, Taheri emphasized girls could end up dying if banning this procedure isn’t done with proper care.

Mohammad Masood, a surgeon of “virginity repair” working in the Harley Street clinic, discussed the current situation: most of his patients found him online. They always avoid follow-up counseling and contact. Rather than using the phone, they just accept the email. An investigation by the Sunday Times shows the “restoring virgins” surgery to be a profitable deal in the U.K.: At least 22  private clinics offering the surgery charge up to £3,000 for each.

What’s worse, strong evidence discloses the drawbacks of surgery. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration worries that inadequate practice could put patients under risk of burns, scarring, and recurring pain. Such a dreadful surgery then be more like a “rip off,” taking advantage of females’ fear. Guidelines from the General Medical Council (GMC) also found that, in plentiful cases, external pressures force females to take the surgery. That means women are losing their domination over their vagina, even the whole body, fueled by what society is telling them is normal.

In India’s Kanjarbhat Community, traditional values and virtues take sex as a taboo and set social expectation ti be a “pure” woman. Unbroken hymen represents an honor to both individuals and families. Hence, brides need to pass a virginity test and prove their chastity on the wedding night. The most common one could be a white sheet with blood. Otherwise, there could be serious consequences, such as paying compensation to the groom or even a lost life.

Women are materialized as an object. Even though a virgin may not bleed based on researches of modern medicine, testifying a “virginity identity” in every possible way becomes a negotiation between pitiful girls and their relatives. During the past year, India has witnessed the rise of “virginity repair” surgery by around 25%.

Another horrible “two-finger test” used to be a common practice applied to rape victims. Under an unscientific assumption that an intact hymen could only be torn by sexual intercourse, doctors determine whether victims have been sexually molested through using fingers to check the vaginal muscles. In October 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) clarified that “virginity testing has no clinical basis. No examination can prove a girl or woman has had sex – and the appearance of girl’s or woman’s hymen cannot prove whether they have had sexual intercourse, or are sexually active or not.” The only outcome is to force them to re-experience, to be re-traumatized, and again to re-victim.

Historical oppression on women’s body autonomy may never pass. What’s worse, because of inevitable globalization and migration, countries without previous history, such as Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands are adopting similar tests. Requirements of “perfect virginity” are rooted in gender inequality. It could be a violation of human rights to life, privacy, and physical integrity. Although it is essential to prohibit “virginity repair” surgery, the complicated current situation could be a big challenge.  To those struggling Muslim girls, “virginity repair” surgery is a life-saving straw. Hence, arbitrarily closing all the private clinics is unrealistic and reckless. Instead, improving the surgery condition should be an urgent affair.

For states like the U.K. and the U.S., normalizing present legal clinics should be put on the agenda. By controlling the quantity and quality of these clinics, the sanitation level can be better supervised. Setting out strict regulations for doctors without licenses is vital. Moreover, surgeons own the duty to offer transparent information towards their patients, especially the potential risks. The painful reactions include damaging the genitalia, causing bleeding or even infection. Friendly service and attitude may also ease the stress and shame of helpless females.

Rather than adopting a free market economy, which may result in a profitable deal, maintaining a reasonable price of virginity repair surgery is more significant. Since plentiful victims live an execrable life, the surgery price might not be affordable to them. Hence, effective cooperation between governmental organizations, NGOs and private charities could work on raising financial support.

It could be a tough task to fluctuate the culture of the Muslim community, but other long-lasting strategies in the supranational level need to run in parallel. International appealing to the Muslim community’s judicial system can be the most primary step. Honor killing of women, also known as shame killing, must be banned. A justice decision-making mechanism against sexual assault, patriarchal doctrine, and misogynous activities will reduce the demand for virginity repair” surgery. Fortunately, under global efforts, unscientific virginity examinations are disappearing. For instance, on January 29, Gujarat High Court passed the law on stopping the two-finger test.

Relying on mass media, Sayeeda Warsi, a British lawyer, politician, and member of the House of Lords, leads a semi-structured interview with seven brilliant, ambitious and innovative British Muslim women in her podcast “How to be a Muslim Woman.” Through sharing tears and laughter during vivid conversations, these courageous Muslim girls have a space to tell their real-life stories, which may be different from widespread rigid stereotypes on them. Other cultural forms also encourage women to overcome a sense of shame and guilt on sexuality. For instance, the world’s first Vagina Museum was opened in London on November 16, 2019. Within art exhibitions, plays, workshops and comedy nights, this museum tends to “erase the stigma around the body and gynecological anatomy.”  

Just as Florence Schechter, the director of the Vagina Museum, said: “this is a part of the body that should be celebrated. With our outreach work, we want to bust myths and we firmly believe in inclusion and acceptance for everyone.

Yuexin Li
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