Samira Ibrahim: Local and worldwide hero

Egypt’s ban of virginity tests for female detainees came with smiles and a sense of victory and justice recently, thanks to a heroic woman, Samira Ibrahim. She was detained in March of 2011 and was forced to undergo an invasive virginity test, and decided to file a lawsuit to have these tests banned in Egypt. Even though the Egyptian army initially denied the use of these  tests, it was quickly revealed that women were in fact forced to undergo virginity tests, as a means to shield the army from false allegations of rape and other possible sexual violations.

These tests were a clear violation of women’s rights. Thankfully, Samira Ibrahim responded and speaks out about this injustice.

People all over the world should admire Ibrahim for standing up and making such a strong statement to conservative Egypt, and the world. What was first an issue of human rights has become a touchstone for the empowerment of  many young women.

While I know of many women’s rights issues facing a majority of the countries in the world, I sometimes find myself feeling sheltered from the worse realities and their impact. I am not experiencing their struggles directly, and many stories of what women are actually dealing with continue to go unheard. At 25, Samira Ibrahim did have the courage to share her story with the world, forever impacting all of us.

VenusPlusX blogger Kushaba Moses Mworeko offered another reason, or excuse, for the use of virginity tests.

“Long before the introduction of Christianity on the African soil, it’s worth noting that virginity tests were performed for different reasons across various cultures in different parts on the Continent. The major reason for these tests was and has always been for marriage. For instance, in African states virginity was largely determined the bride’s price; a virgin is sold for a higher bride price than a girl who is not. First, there would be a naked eye indicator of pregnancy, then on her first night of marriage, the paternal aunt of the groom would make sure an inspection of the bed sheets to verify the blood stains that would indicate whether or not virginity was lost the night before.

This same practice continues today in many cultures, including among many orthodox Jewish-Americans.”

Moses is really talking about a complexity that I find to be both confusing and disheartening. Worldwide, there is an obsession with calculating the value of women. There are many ways of doing it, across cultures (virginity tests, imposed images of beauty, expected roles to live out), but the result seems to be the same everywhere. Women are being demeaned, violated, silenced, and more.

The oppression of females and women has certainly been at the core of many nations’ founding and history. The  oppression is sometimes clear to me, along with its effects, but a root explanation and any logic behind it is not so clear. Together, we must try to understand why so many cultures find it acceptable to objectify women and devalue our talents and advantages, in order to rid the world of sexual oppression.

Choosing to live outside of systems of oppression, instead of underneath, Samira Ibrahim showed her strength, and I definitely saw and heard all of it!