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Is virginity testing practice still relevant?

10 Feb 2016 at 12:45hrs | Views
There is an old age adage indicating that "Ignorance is dangerous but even so when it is not acknowledged". In her article titled "MP Tshinga Dube, there is a big difference between telling a girl-child to preserve her virginity and empowering her to be self" published on dated 09/02/2016, Nomazulu Thata lashes out at MP Tshinga Dube for having spoken in favour of virginity testing. MP Dube had attended a Guta Ra Mwari annual ceremony where he was enchanted at finding out that the congregation practices virginity testing and upholds virginity as a virtue. Reading through her article one developed a feeling that the anger exuded therein was as a result of a host of misconceptions, misinformation and frustration from socio-political and economic issues prevailing in her surrounding. One can always be forgiven if they react out of ignorance but it becomes difficult if such ignorance is imbued with one's posturing as the oasis of knowledge and truth. As a member of the Guta Ra Mwari religion, I thought I should share my understanding of the practice of virginity testing not only within the confines of the religion but also from a cultural perspective.

I am quite certain that it is common knowledge that virginity testing is an old-age practice with references even from the bible. The practice seeks to determine a child's sexual purity with the hope of encouraging self-preservation (abstinence from sexual intercourse). While others may argue that the practice has no space in the modern day society, the truth of the matter is that it is more salient now that it might have been then especially at the backdrop of some of the social ills that Nomazulu highlighted. There is a conspicuous reality of young people voluntarily engaging in sexual intercourse at a far younger age that it might have been decades ago. All this happens in in a context of societies that are ravaged by the scourge of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses. Not only are our societies reeling from HIV but also issues of early child pregnancies. All of these have a huge impact on the life of the child including dropping out of school, a condition that in-turn subjects them to more vulnerabilities. All these are a precursor to a circle of poverty and diseases which in turn have a number of national implications.

Since prevention is better than cure, Guta Ra Mwari then adopts a holistic approach of empowering a young person to look after self in a bid to avert the afore mentioned challenges. The approach includes availing an opportunity to young people to voluntarily participate in virginity testing after numerous pre-sessions of being taught of the advantages of looking after one's self. While historically the practice was largely done on young girls, Guta Ra Mwari affords the same opportunity to both girls and boys. The elders involved in have clear but separate indicators against which virginity for both boys and girls is tested. I suppose this allays the concern on the practice being gender imbalanced. Furthermore, the approach entails a strong emphasis on education where young people are encultured to have high regard for formal education not only to enhance their lives but also as a way of preoccupying themselves as they grow. Education as a preoccupation mechanism comes at the backdrop of both empirical and anecdotal evidence that an idle mind (especially that of a child) is a vulnerable mind. As a result, a child in most cases gets exposed to sex and drugs as the easiest pass-time activities.

Nomazulu's concern then is on the categorization of sexually abused children when the rest are viewed as virgins. Child sexual abuse is a genuine concern that as reports of such cases rise, there needs to be concomitant actions to address the blight. Concerted efforts by all sectors of communities need to be galvanised to close space for such cases. While everything else needs to be done against child abusers, it does not follow that those who haven't been abused should shy away from taking pride in their virginity in solidarity with the abused. In fact Guta Ra Mwari acknowledges that sexual abuse is an occurrence that cannot be reversed once inflicted on a child. Then the approach escalates in teachings that acknowledge such cases and even of those children who would have voluntarily chosen to engage in sex with their peers including those whose virginity cannot be determined due to some medical reasons. The teachings go as far as indicating that while virginity is a virtue, it is by no means a measure for chastity. Chastity is the desirable goal for all in the religion, children and adults alike. As such, all children (virgins or non-virgins) are encouraged to abstain from sexual activities and up-hold good morals as one of the very few ways to attain chastity. In this case chastity is the purity of one's soul which is different from virginity which denotes sexual purity. While chastity is the domain of God to make a determination, virginity is determinable through physically clear indicators whose originality must be mantained. By the way, in-light of the various indicators used to determine virginity; it is a myth that sports, bicycle, horse or donkey riding can end one's virginity. Sexual abstinence is encouraged among young people in this way until such time that they are lawfully married to partners of their choice. As such, there is no room for an assertion made by Nomazulu that virginity is ultimately used to cure those who are HIV reactive. One however, acknowledges that Africa has had a number of such cases that are also as a result of ignorance of how HIV manifests itself. Guta Ra Mwari regards such cases as arising from fables and treats them with the abhorrence they deserve. Lastly, there is a lot that the world can learn from some of our indigenous ways of dealing with most of the problems with global stature. The fact that certain things ought to be indigenised does not set us at the periphery of modernisation. Perhaps we need to begin to define modernity to also take into cognisance some our African indigenous practices too.  

Mpumelelo Ncube (is a member of the Guta Ra Mwari Religion, South Africa branch)

Source - Mpumelelo Ncube
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