Women must undergo pap smears and virginity tests to teach in Brazil

"It's very intimate information that she has the right to keep," said one activist fighting the controversial law

Published August 11, 2014 3:45PM (EDT)


Good luck getting a teaching job in São Paulo if you're a woman who doesn't want to undergo a pap smear or have a doctor certify your virginity in a written note. As outlined by a 2012 law that might well have been written decades (or even centuries) earlier, women who wish to become teachers in Brazil's most populous state must undergo invasive gynecological exams to test for a variety of cancers, ostensibly to determine if the candidates pose a risk of taking extended absences to cope with an illness.

Given that a woman can get out of the requirements by disclosing whether or not she's sexually active -- despite the fact that having an intact hymen does not preclude developing reproductive cancers -- it's clear the law has at least as much to do with monitoring women's sexual behavior as with protecting worker health. Women's rights activists have condemned the measure as a complete violation of privacy. As the Associated Press reports, the Brazilian government agrees:

Brazil's national Special Secretariat for Women's Rights said they are against any requirements that compromise the privacy of women.

"The woman has the right to choose whether to take an exam that will not affect her professional life," said the statement. Such policies violate constitutional protections of human dignity and the principle of equality and right to private life, it said.

Brazil's Health Ministry asserts that the law is part of an exam protocol "to ensure, beyond technical ability, the physical and mental ability of candidates to keep their jobs for an average of 25 years," regardless of gender. But, as Jezebel writer Isha Aran points out, that justification implies that women who don't provide a clean bill of health could be denied jobs. So, on top of violating any and all medical privacy rights, the law also has the potential to use women's medical histories against them.

Whether there's room to be grateful that the bill is only two years old is open for debate, but one upside is that relatively few women have been subject to the intrusive requirements. It's yet unclear what will come of the measure, but public defenders are working to overturn the stipulations.

"It violates women's rights," activist Ana Paula de Oliveira Castro told the AP. "It's very intimate information that she has the right to keep. It's absurd to continue with these demands."

By Jenny Kutner

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