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Egyptian lawmaker’s call for virginity tests draws fire


Cairo: A women’s rights group has filed a legal complaint against an Egyptian lawmaker who called for mandatory virginity tests for women seeking university admission, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported today.

It quoted Maya Morsi, head of the state-sanctioned National Council for Women, as saying the complaint demands the expulsion from parliament of Ilhami Agena and a criminal investigation into his actions.

She said the lawmaker was harming the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.

Agena said in an interview last week that virginity tests were needed to combat the proliferation of informal marriages, known as “gawaz orfy,” between students. Virtually expense free, such marriages have become more popular in recent years because of high youth unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing.

The gawaz orfy is widely viewed as a religiously sanctioned way of having premarital sex, a taboo in mostly conservative and majority Muslim Egypt. Muslim clerics have spoken out against such marriages.

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.

The military was alleged to have conducted virginity tests on 19 women arrested after troops violently broke up a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in March 2011, shortly after longtime President Hosni Mubarak resigned in the face of a popular uprising.

Three months later, Amnesty International said that Egypt’s then-military rulers acknowledged carrying out the tests as a way to protect the army from possible rape allegations.

The military pledged not to conduct the tests again, according to the London-based rights group.

Agena’s comments about women have sparked controversy in the past, including claims that some female lawmakers were not dressing modestly enough.

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