Turkey: Virginity examinations

Cancel the code of conduct which permits virginity examinations.
On 19 July 2001, the Minister of Health of Turkey initiated proceedings to bypass the ban on virginity examinations (Ministry of Justice, decree no: 27/123) brought into action two years ago after many years of protest by women and women's groups in Turkey.

Our friends at Women for Women's Human Rights/Kadinin Insan Halklari Projesi have informed us that following criticisms from women's human right organizations and his own political party, the Minister of Health, Osman Durmus has now stepped back from his initial comments and has recently declared that he himself is against virginity tests and that the doctors should comply with the ban issued by the Ministry of justice in 1999. HOWEVER, he has NOT withdrawn the code of conduct he issued and the action must now be directed to pressure him to cancel the code of conduct.

There is another statute named the "Statute of for awards and discipline in the High School Education Institutions" issued by the Ministry of Education and which came into effect as of 31 January 1995. This statute states that 'proof of unchastity" is a valid reason for expulsion from the formal educational system. Despite the ban issued by the Ministry of Justice, this statute remains to be in effect. Recently, following protests, the Ministry of Education contacted the Directorate on Women's Status, asking for their opinion on the statute. Therefore, please include the Ministry of Education in your alert.
More background details are included in the following article from the Associated Press.

Turkish Virginity Tests Outrage Some
by Suzan Fraser, Associated Press Writer

18 July 2001: ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's health minister says high school girls training to be nurses must be virgins and the virginity tests he is authorizing will protect the nation's youth from prostitution and underage sex. Outraged women's groups and nurses are vowing to fight, and a teachers' union is asking the government to fire the minister.

The regulations introduced this week by Health Minister Osman Durmus allow principals in state schools that train nurses, midwives and other health workers to expel girls for "having had sex or engaging in prostitution.'' Girls who are suspected of having sex could be subjected to a gynecological test to determine if they are virgins.

Virginity is highly valued in mainly Muslim Turkey. Forced virginity tests on girls suspected of having had premarital sex were common until the practice was banned in 1999 after five girls took rat poison rather than submit to the test.

Durmus said he was trying promote moral behavior in the nursing schools. "Should our schools become places for prostitution?'' he was quoted as saying by Akit newspaper. In a tense meeting Tuesday, Buyan Dogan, the head of the Association of Turkish nurses, pleaded with Durmus to reconsider. The minister interrupted her frequently, at times accusing the nurses of defending underage sex. "We will fight this to the end,'' an angry Dogan said before leaving Durmus' office.

The controversy, which is also being debated in the country's newspapers, reflects deep divisions between the large part of Turkey that is deeply religious and the Western-oriented elite who regard themselves as European. The Islamic-oriented newspaper Akit devoted its front page to Durmus' attacks on the nurses who oppose virginity tests. "A lesson for the immoral evil person,'' the newspaper said in its headline, referring to Dogan. It accused her of defending prostitution and sexual relationships.

The liberal press, meanwhile, ridiculed Durmus in sarcastic headlines. Columnist Can Dundar of the Milliyet newspaper asked how Durmus was going to check the virginity of male nursing students. The Turkish Union of Science and Culture Workers, which represents teachers, called for the minister's dismissal. "Durmus should work to solve the country's health problems — he should not concern himself with issues concerning the waist down,'' said Alaadin Dincer, head of the union.

In Turkey, girls who attend nursing high schools are generally from poor, traditional backgrounds. The conservative countryside is a traditional power base for Durmus' far-right Nationalist Action Party. The 1999 ban on virginity tests allows them only for gathering evidence for court cases, such as rape trials. It requires a court order before women can be forced to take the test.

Durmus said nursing students suspecting of having sex would not be subjected to virginity tests without a court order. Before the ban, school principals could force the test on girls suspected of engaging in premarital sex. The change came after five teen-age girls from an orphanage attempted suicide by taking rat poison and throwing themselves in a water tank rather than submitting to the test after returning late to their orphanage. The girls were later forced to take the test in their hospital beds.

Concern over virginity sometimes even extends to visitors to Turkey: In more conservative parts of the country, unmarried foreign tourists have been dragged out of their hotel rooms for staying with male companions.
Women for Women's Human Rights/Kadinin Insan Halklari Projesi
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Women for Women's Human Rights/Kadinin Insan Halklari Projesi