An Indonesian official apologized on Tuesday for a proposal requiring high school girls to submit to virginity tests in order to get their diplomas.
Ayub Junaid, the vice chairman of the city council of Jember, East Java, apologized "on behalf of the leadership and local legislative bodies...to the public, especially women, in particular girls and children," according to local media.
The proposal surfaced last week when council member Habib Isa Mahdi said virginity tests were part of "good conduct" legislation the council was considering, citing what Isa Mahdi said were worryingly high rates of HIV among high schoolers in the region.
Another lawmaker last week expressed support for expanding the proposal to cover the entire 2.3-million person province, with the intention of "scaring" girls away from sex.
Human rights advocates say the tests are nothing but "discriminatory gender-based violence."
"I think that the foundation for the virginity tests is one that's rooted in a desire to intimidate, a desire to instill fear, along with very mistaken views that there actually might be a medical purpose or efficacy in the test," said Phelim Kine, the deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.
The World Health Organization has stated unequivocally that the tests have no scientific or medical value.
"For there to be a move by policymakers, by educators, by government officials to want to inflict the virginity test on women and girls really illustrates both a profound ignorance about medical reality and a real contempt for the rights of women and girls," Kine said.
Tuesday's apology came after council members met with members of Indonesia's top Islamic clerical body, the Ulema Council. The religious council voiced opposition to the proposal, declaring that virginity tests were not compatible with Islam.
The proposal also drew backlash from local youth and women's rights activists.
Nationally, virginity tests are still required for women who want to serve in the country's military or police forces, a November Human Rights Watch investigation found. Tests for women who want to join the national civil service were dropped following that report, but Kine said the military and police have since "dug in their heels" about keeping the tests.
Ellin Rozana, the executive director of Institut Perempuan ("The Women's Institute"), an Indonesian feminist organization, told BuzzFeed News by email that this isn't the first time Indonesian officials have considered virginity tests for school girls. In 2013, a city in South Sumatra planned to require virginity tests as part of high school entrance screenings, ostensibly to combat sex trafficking. In 2010, local legislators in another province proposed a similar idea. And in 2007, district officials in West Java suggested virginity tests might reduce the supply of pornography.
What all of these have in common, Rozana wrote, is "discrimination against women by the state" and a focus on "women/girls who lack morals" as an alleged policy problem.
The institute called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to end any government use of virginity tests, including among applicants to the police and military.
Kine also urged a unilateral policy change by Widodo. "This is something he could very easily, requiring v little political capital, put an end to tomorrow afternoon," Kine told BuzzFeed News. "It’s not a political heavy lift. You don’t have to create a law, or coalition-build. You just send an order saying, 'No more. Stop.'"