In conservative Egypt, women seek low-cost ways to 'prove' virginity | Inquirer News

In conservative Egypt, women seek low-cost ways to ‘prove’ virginity

/ 10:31 AM December 06, 2021

Egypt woman

 A woman walks past a mural depicting anti-sexual harassment message and reading “Woman is free” at a highway in Cairo, Egypt, September 3, 2018. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

CAIRO — She advertises
her surgeries discreetly as a “health and beauty” service, but
the gynecologist offering hymen reconstruction operations to
women in rural Egypt says they save lives.

In conservative societies such as Egypt, an “intact” hymen –
the thin tissue that may partially cover the vagina – is still
widely seen as confirming virginity.


For brides, a torn hymen can lead to shaming by relatives or
in-laws. In the worst cases, it can motivate so-called honor
killings, which are usually committed by victims’ relatives.


“This is our duty as doctors – to protect girls from murder
and from the social stigma they are subjected to because of the
hymen,” said the gynecologist, Layla, who asked to use a
pseudonym so she could speak freely about her work.

Surgically repairing or reconstructing the hymen – known as
a hymenoplasty – is legal in Egypt but unaffordable for most,
costing up to 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,270) – about twice the
average monthly wage.


For women in rural areas such as Upper Egypt, where
attitudes tend to be ultra-conservative, accessing the procedure
is even more difficult.

Healthcare services are limited and few women have the means
to pay for the surgery.

Layla travels regularly to Egypt’s far-flung provinces to
perform hymenoplasties for about a third of the usual price.

“I announce on my (Facebook) page that I’m going to a
certain governorate from such-and-such a day … people book an
appointment, and I do the operations at (their) home,” she said.

“There are girls who can’t find doctors in Upper Egypt, and
this subject is very difficult to talk about or raise awareness
there because it’s a very conservative society,” she told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Over the last nine years, she has performed some 1,500
operations, about a third of which she carried out
free-of-charge for particularly vulnerable women, she said.

Egypt’s health ministry and its National Council for Women,
which do not have data on hymenoplasties or honor killings,
declined to comment.

Human rights groups say thousands of women and girls are
killed across the Middle East and South Asia each year by family
members angered at perceived damage to their “honor.”

‘Until society changes’

While hymenoplasty is legal and relatively safe if conducted
by a certified gynecologist, it remains controversial in Egypt.

Randa Fakhr El-Deen, executive director of the NGOs’ Union
on Harmful Practices against Women and Children, runs sexual
health education workshops teaching participants – among other
things – that hymens can be torn through sport or car accidents.

Others view the surgery as a pragmatic way to help protect
women from the risk of honor violence or shaming.

“Until society changes its perspective on this issue, women
should be really encouraged to do them,” said Reda Eldanbouki, a
lawyer and executive director of the Women’s Center for Guidance
and Legal Awareness, a feminist NGO.

The religious stance on hymen reconstruction in
Muslim-majority Egypt is also unclear, with some clerics
insisting it should only be permissible in cases of rape.

But a scholar at Dar al-Iftaa, a leading Egyptian Islamic
institute, told a recent Facebook broadcast that women seeking
to change course in their lives after having had pre-marital sex
could also get a hymenoplasty.

“One of the cases in which hymen repair is legitimate is …
if the girl was deceived and wants to repent,” said Ahmed
Mamdouh, director of the institute’s Department of Sharia

‘A nightmare’

Growing anxious as her wedding day drew near, 26-year-old
Nour Mohamed pinned her hopes on a herbalist offering a
concoction he said would stimulate bleeding during intercourse –
giving the impression that her hymen had torn.

After breaking up with her boyfriend several years ago, she
was under pressure from her family to marry, but needed a
low-cost way to let her husband-to-be think she was a virgin.

“It was a nightmare – I would have either been killed or
exposed by my husband. I could not afford a hymenoplasty and
this herbal treatment was my only hope,” she said.

Asking to remain anonymous, even though his work is legal,
Mohamed’s herbalist said he had treated about 4,000 patients
from Egypt and thousands more from Algeria and Morocco.

He charges 2,000 Egyptian pounds, but said he waived the
cost in some cases to help women at risk from violence.

Without giving details, Mohamed said the herbal treatment
had worked for her.

Cairo-based gynecologist Amira Ibrahim Abou Shady said
people marketing herbs and “magic recipes” online were “cashing
in on desperate girls who are trying to recover what they have

“They take advantage of psychological pressures that control
the girl after she loses her virginity,” she said, adding that
surgery was the only way to restore the hymen.

While it could take decades to change deep-rooted beliefs
about virginity and stamp out honor killings, Fakhr El-Deen
called for a nationwide campaign to tackle misconceptions about
the significance of the hymen.

“We are talking about lives here, and they do matter,” she
($1 = 15.6600 Egyptian pounds)


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TAGS: Egypt, Virginity, Women

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