[This story was updated at 10:27 p.m on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, to correct the population number of Jember]
Jakarta. Across a vast archipelagic country with diverse sets of values and a strongly decentralized political framework — local politicians in Indonesia can be relied on to come out with the occasional bizarre idea. But a breathtakingly misogynistic bill currently being considered by lawmakers in East Java has raised the bar.
The city council of Jember wants to give a virginity test to all schoolgirls. The city will prohibit them from graduating high school if they "fail" the test.
Jember is the third-largest urban area in East Java with a population of about 2.3 million people, according to the Central Statistics Acency's (BPS) 2010 census.
"What surprises us the most is they have had sex several times and with different partners," Habib Isa Mahdi, a lawmaker from the People's Conscience Party (Hanura), told Detik.com on Friday. "Moreover, the Ministry of Social Affairs said that Indonesia is in an emergency situation against pornography — that's what drives us to make such regulation."
The idea was first debated during a meeting between the city council's Commission D and the Jember Education Agency on Wednesday. The council is drafting a regulation on "good conduct," which includes an article installing a virginity test as a requirement for female students' graduation.
The city council argued the regulation was necessary because many secondary and high school students were engaging in pre-marital sexual activities. Isa claimed that based on the data gathered from local hospitals, around 10 percent of Jember's approximately 1,200 HIV/AIDS patients were students. The Jakarta Globe could not immediately verify Isa's claims.
"There's a need to protect our children," he said. "Jember has to be brave to act to save them."
The Jember Chapter of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), the second-largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, opposed the proposal.
"Virginity is very sensitive. If a female student cannot meet the requirement, she'll be the subject of gossip in the society," Jember's policy chief for NU, MN Harisuddin, told the organization's official website on Thursday. "Say the bill is passed, the test would be simple to conduct, but why is it only done for the female students? How about the boys?"
Mufti Ali, a lawmaker from National Awakening Party (PKB), told East Java news portal BeritaJatim.com this week that he wanted to expand the proposal beyond Jember to become a provincial law.
"If they're not virgins anymore, don't let them pass," he said. "It may sound like a joke, but it's serious. It's for the sake of the future.
"I agree that virginity should become a [requirement] for graduation. I will tell my friends to make it a regional regulation. We can't only rely on their conscience to behave well. There should also be pressure. If they're pushed [to behave well], that bad behavior can improve."
On the question of the regulation's obvious sexism, Mufti offers a pragmatic defense.
"We can't test the boys," he told the East Java news portal. "But at least with the regulation, girls will be afraid [to have pre-marital sex]. The boys will be prevented from the act because girls will become unwilling. This will scare them, that if they [have sex], they will not graduate."
And proving that he has an answer to everything to defend the proposal, Mufti says that victims of rape undergoing the test have nothing to worry about.
"The medical team will be able to tell [if they have been the victim of a sexual assault]," he said.
Indonesia has drawn international condemnation for its often-vicarious relationship with evidence-based policy to battle social and health problems, from HIV transmission to drug trafficking. The trade minister said this week that he would push through a ban on imported clothes partly because used clothing could transmit the HIV virus.
He later apologized.
Demands for virginity are not limited to the male politicians of Jember, Indonesia's police often use the degrading virginity test as a pre-condition for employing its female officers.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated in the third paragraph that the population of Jember, East Java, is 300,000; it is not. According to the Central Statistics Agency's (BPS) 2010 census, the population of Jember is 2.3 million.