VIRGINITY TESTING AND DIGNITY
By Sthabiso Mdledle
Thousands of young Zulu maidens from all over South Africa make their way to Nongoma, in Northern KwaZulu-Natal to participate in Umkhosi womhlanga every year.
Umkhosi womhlanga is the annual reed dance ceremony celebrating virginity. This traditional gathering usually takes place in September, which in South Africa is heritage month. The aim is to encourage young maidens to abstain from sexual intercourse in order to become respected women in the society.
According to 19 year old Nobuhle Mbhele from Mandawe, a small community outside Scottsburgh, virginity testing helps them as young girls to maintain their dignity in the community. It is not only for the society to recognize them as virgins, but it also helps them to abstain from sex. She believes that it is a way of respecting yourself as a young woman.
However, there are challenges that come with being a virgin one being of the attention the maidens receive from the opposite sex. “Being a virgin also attracts the wrong people, like those older boys who drink alcohol and use drugs. Sometimes when they are under the influence and I pass next to them they will make those unnecessary remarks that they will catch me and I will date one of them,” said Mbhele.
She believes that virginity testing if introduced and encouraged to young girls at an early age can help reduce the spread of HIV and Aids including teenage pregnancy which are the main challenges faced by the youth today.
Mbhele is proud of being a virgin and her mother is the one who encouraged her to sustain her virginity and not to engage in any kind of relationship until she is old enough to be married.
According to an article on Irinnews.org, Dr Fiona Scorgie, senior research fellow at the Centre for HIV/AIDS Networking at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, spent time between 2000 and 2001 with some of the first virginity testers where a debate about human rights versus culture heated up. She is now of the opinion that virginity testing is not necessary.
“We can sit arguing till the cows come home, but the more urgent and pragmatic issue is HIV/AIDS. If we look at it just from that perspective, then virginity testing is not effective – it has failed on so many levels to reduce HIV/AIDS prevention.”
Ndala Mngadi, former school teacher at Siphapheme High School at uMzinto thinks virginity testing is not a bad thing because it encourages parents to talk about sex and virginity in a country that is struggling with HIV and Aids.
Abstinence is not something that should be encouraged for girls only and not for boys; not in such a patriarchal society with such skewed power relations. Boys must be given more responsibility to abstain; there’s no point in only encouraging girls. Virginity testing must be well explained to girls and not be used to further impede their dignity.