The commander of Indonesia's armed forces, General Moeldoko, has strong views about criticism of the abusive 'virginity tests' imposed on female recruits and the fiancées of military officers. 'So what's the problem? It's a good thing, so why criticize it?' he told reporters in Jakarta on 16 May.

Moeldoko's comments were in response to queries about a Human Rights Watch report released two days earlier revealing the Indonesian military has for decades compelled female recruits and fiancées of military officers to undergo the invasive 'two-finger test' to determine whether their hymens are intact. Only those women with resources to either bribe military doctors or to tap connections within the armed forces or the Government are spared the painful indignity of these so-called 'virginity tests.'

Moeldoko is apparently untroubled by the fact that medical research has conclusively proven that 'virginity tests' do nothing more than inflict unneeded pain and trauma on women. Evidence includes WHO guidelines issued in November 2014 that stated, 'There is no place for virginity (or 'two-finger') testing; it has no scientific validity.'

Moeldoko's support for 'virginity tests' ignores the obvious discriminatory nature of the practice. It also runs Indonesia afoul of its commitments to international law, namely the prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Indonesia has ratified.

But Moeldoko is less concerned about the cruel and degrading treatment of women who seek to serve in Indonesia's armed forces or marry military officers than he is about their 'morality.' Moeldoko has justified the imposition of these tests as an essential 'measure of morality' of female recruits. He didn't see the hypocrisy of not obligating male military recruits to likewise prove their chastity. But he's adamant that 'there's no other way' to determine a women's morality.

The Indonesian military spokesman Faud Basry on 14 May echoed Moeldoko's opinions by asserting that 'virginity tests' are a means of screening out inappropriate female recruits. 'If they are no longer virgins, if they are naughty, it means their mentality is not good,' Basya told The Guardian. Neither Moeldoko or nor Basya had any justification for why the Indonesian armed forced imposed 'virginity tests' on the fiancées of military officers.

Moeldoko and Basry's junk-science validations of a form of gender-based violence reflects entrenched attitudes that extend to other parts of the Indonesian security forces, which are proving stubbornly resistant to change. In November 2014, Human Rights Watch reported on the Indonesian National Police's imposition of 'virginity tests' on thousands of female applicants since 1965, in contravention of National Police principles that recruitment must be both 'nondiscriminatory' and 'humane.'

The National Police tried to brush off Human Rights Watch's exposure of the practice. A senior police official, Inspector General Moechgiyarto, confirmed that the National Police required the test for female applicants. But rather than condemning the practice and promising its abolition, Moechgiyarto defended it as a means to ensure the 'high moral standards' of the police and reportedly suggested that failure of the test was simply proof that applicants were engaged in sex work. 'If she (an applicant) turns out to be a prostitute, then how could we accept her for the job?' he said.

Other parts of the Indonesian bureaucracy have been more responsive in recognising the abusive nature of this practice. In December 2014, Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo announced that his ministry would stop administering 'virginity tests' to women aspiring to be civil servants. Major General Daniel Tjen, Surgeon-General of the Indonesian armed forces, recently stated that the military was reviewing its recruitment procedures, including the 'virginity test' requirement for female recruits. 

What's absent is decisive action from President Joko Widodo to put an end to these tests by the country's security forces. Widodo can start by publicly denouncing the practice and instructing both the military and police to immediately stop using it. He can put teeth on that rhetoric by swiftly disciplining any of his top officials who disobey or contradict those orders.

Australia can also play a part. The Australian Government should place immediate conditions on its assistance and cooperation with the Indonesian military and police to ensure that its technical and financial support is not subsidising 'virginity tests.' The Government should also instruct the Australian delegate to the 17-22 May world conference in Bali of the intergovernmental International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM) – which so far has been failed to condemn 'virginity tests' – to push for a resolution that commits all ICMM member countries to ban the abusive practice. 

Concerted domestic and international pressure may be needed to convince President Widodo, General Moeldoko and Police Inspector General Moechgiyarto that abusive 'virginity tests' are an unacceptable violation of women's rights under international law. Without that pressure, untold numbers of women will continue to suffer humiliation, pain and trauma based on a wrongheaded and discriminatory conception of 'morality.'

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AFN-Pacific Hawaii News Bureau.