BY SAMIRA IBRAHIM
CAIRO, Egypt — In March 2011, Samira Ibrahim was arrested with dozens of other protesters in Tahrir Square and taken to a military facility where so-called “virginity tests” were being administered to detained women. When she was ordered to strip down so that an army doctor could make sure she was a virgin, Ibrahim complied. But that action ignited a firestorm of retaliation that resulted in the 25-year-old suing the Egyptian government for sexual assault and winning. Ibrahim embarked on a mission to change the establishment and she hasn’t quit despite a great deal of public harassment and the loss of her job. Although the doctor who administered the tests was acquitted, Ibrahim’s successful case ended the practice — to the joy of many Egyptians and spectators worldwide. She has been called a radical, a freedom fighter, a feminist, a role model and a hero.
The virginity test was a nightmare that threatened Egyptian females. It didn’t only threaten those who opposed the authorities, but also those arrested for different reasons, who refused to be subjected to this test, but feared our society and its rules — and feared the authorities. In this society, disclosing anything related to sex is considered an intentional violation of the norms and traditions of our culture. The whole society erupts, refusing to talk about the issue, putting the victim at a disadvantage.
When I decided to revolt and expose the virginity tests other girls and I were subjected to at the hands of members of the Egyptian military, it was a challenge not only to society, but also to the Egyptian authorities represented in the military establishment. They are entitled to do what they want, when they want. Nobody blames them because Egyptian society is both patriarchal and fanatic by nature.
The virginity testing case is a central issue because all parties – the authorities, the society, and the customs inherited over thousands of years — participated in creating an environment in which virginity testing was allowed to happen. I succeeded in obtaining a court ruling that prohibits virginity tests in exceptional and civil courts. Some girls, and the whole society, were surprised by what I did. I became an activist, a voice of opposition to the authorities. I became a well-known young woman on the Egyptian street and an exceptional person among the revolutionary youth. It was because my revolution wasn’t just against our despotic regime. I revolted against patriarchal society and its customs and traditions in order to free myself of these restrictions.
Thus, the virginity test case paved the way for those girls who suffer and have suffered to raise their voices and break the chains of fear. After I was victorious against the fundamentalist society, and the deterioration of authority became centrally represented in the military, the army dispersed our sit-in on March 9. They detained and killed the best of us, the comrades of collective revolutionary struggle, where we had been since January 25, when protests and demonstrations spread all over Egypt, and successfully demanded the fall of Hosni Mubarak and his regime. But then Mubarak returned in the form of the army, which pretended to protect the revolution, but instead led the counter-revolution, violating honor, killing young men, and abrading girls and women, testing — and even violating — their virginity.
The main objective I was after in my revolt, the reason I challenged everyone, was to prevent further violations of women’s bodies through virginity tests. My revolt succeeded in preventing this practice. Yes, I admit, the price I paid for my revolution against society and its traditions was my job and reputation.
My revolution aims to liberate women from the restrictions of society that render us both victims and perpetrators at the same time.