In the 1970s, women from the Indian subcontinent who migrated to the UK to join their spouses were routinely subjected to virginity testing examinations. A poet and a filmmaker from Bristol, UK have made a short film, Borders, about the women's experience.
By E Mizon
Aug 26, 2015
In the 1970s women from the Indian subcontinent who migrated to the UK to join their spouses were routinely subjected to virginity testing examinations. Initially, the Home Office denied this ever took place, but eventually admitted that this practice had been carried out on only three women, to verify if they were 'a bonafide virgin or fiance' and to confirm their immigration status.
The exact number of women who were subjected to this procedure is unknown, however, it is estimated that over 80 women had experienced this invasive examination. The story was initially covered by the Guardian in 1979; in 2011, documents were uncovered which showed that the practice, banned after the Guardian first broke the story, was enacted on far more women than previously thought. Women who were subjected to the practice were made to sign a consent form, under threat of being sent back to the country, and were examined by a male doctor.
"A man doctor came in. I asked to be seen by a lady doctor but they said 'no'...He was wearing rubber gloves and took some medicine out of a tube and put it on some cotton and inserted it into me. He said he was deciding whether I was pregnant now or had been pregnant before. I said that he could see that without doing anything to me, but he said there was no need to get shy.
"I have been feeling very bad mentally ever since. I was very embarrassed and upset. I had never had a gynaecological examination before."
The documents further revealed that women had been required to be bare chested for an x-ray, and that subsequent to the incident becoming public, were offered £500 to remain silent and to ensure they did not sue. No official apologies or admittance of wrongdoing were offered by the government, only the pretense that this procedure had only been performed on not nearly as many women as it had.
In 2015, poet Shagufta K Iqbal and filmmaker Elizabeth Mizon began work on a short film about the examinations, based on a poem by Iqbal (who makes a brief appearance in the film.) The short features Adibah Iqbal and Ed Rapley, and the shoot would not have been possible without the dedication and skilled work of DoP Jason Baker, sound technician Ben Harvey and runner Joseph Sawdon, who helped bring the story to the screen.
The film, titled Borders, will premiere on October 10th at the Bristol Radical Film Festival 2015 in their 'Contemporary Political Shorts' programme, and is an official selection for the London Short Film Festival 2016.
See the trailer here:
Borders - Trailer (Shagufta K Iqbal & Elizabeth Mizon) from Elizabeth Mizon on Vimeo.