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Asmaa al Shaayfi
أسماء الشعيفي
Asmaa Shaayfi was born in 1979 in Tripoli, and has written for several newspapers, including Al-Ayyam newspaper, and the newspaper Dabot, and the Tunisian newspaper Al-Sharouq. She formed a team of young journalists and they established an independent newspaper called Al-Mustaqbal.

The Price of Purity

One bride-to-be says societal pressure pushes girls to have their hymens reconstructed
The Price of Purity
Society insists on virginity amongst young brides, some of whom will achieve it at any price.
14/12/2016 | Tripoli

M.A, a 21-year-old from Tripoli was preparing for marriage, but because she lost her virginity in a relationship with her former lover, she sought help to her hide her first sexual experience.

She says her relationship with that man lasted three years, but ended soon after he had had sex with her. "I was infatuated with him and trusted him,” says she with tears in her eyes. “One day, we went to his apartment and there I had given him the most precious thing I had. I had lost control over my senses."

One week after losing her virginity and despite his promise not to abandon her, he started “to dodge” her she says.  “Sometimes he would not answer my calls, and sometimes, he would deliberately come up with excuses not to talk to me. A month later, I learned that he had married another girl."

M.A. then tried to cut her connection to the past and said yes when a young man, accepted by her family, proposed to her. That was when M.A. began to look for someone to help her restore her virginity.  She finally came across a “beauty parlour” to have the surgery to start a new life.

"I am not happy with what I have done,” she says. “But I live in a ruthless society, and my family has imposed marriage on me."

Raids at beauty centres

Three Tripoli-based “beauty parlours”, including the one visited by M.A., were raided by Abu Salim Central Security Detective Unit between August and October 2016.

In the first raid 2 on August, two Libyan women were arrested at a “beauty parlour” that performed abortions and hymenoplasty, at the second, on 22 October, a raid took place at the private home of a woman who performed hymenoplasty– she charged LYD 2500 (USD 1760). In the third raid on 27 October, a group of women were caught performing abortions in a house rented by a gynaecologist.

Risks involved

According to gynaecologist Mufida Abdulrahman from Tripoli, virginity restoration has no side effects as it is a 'cosmetic surgery', although she personally does not encourage it, because she believes it involves 'fraud and deception' for the perspective husband and for her family.

Abortion, on the other hand, Mufida says, involves more risks and serious consequences. Abortions require a sterilized and well-equipped operation room and specialized doctors, as a woman can develop severe and life-threatening bleeding. "The patient may ultimately suffer uterine cancer due to the use of sharp instruments, in addition to the random use of certain herbal medicines without being aware of their risks," Mufida adds.

Abortion or no relationship

A.M., a 32-year-old woman from Jumayl town, west of Tripoli, lives with her three brothers, whom she has supported since the death of their parents.

After losing her job in a wedding gown store, which had to close due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, A.M. began working as a prostitute to support her young brothers.

One evening as she was waiting for a client at a motel on the airport road, a man offered her a large sum of money to leave with him.

They had a close relationship for two years. Then, she got pregnant. He asked her to terminate her pregnancy if she wanted their relationship to continue, and she agreed.

Her friend arranged the secret abortion with a gynaecologist for LYD 2000 (USD 1,412). "Despite the sharp pain, I had to tolerate it. I did not want to lose my dearly loved friend," she said.

Law and Sharia

According to Lawyer Einas al-Miladi, the punishment for an abortion outside hospital can reach up to lifetime imprisonment; because the procedure is life threatening and can cause death. Al-Miladi added that hymenoplasty is also a crime, because it is performed illegally and involves a high risk.

From the Sharia perspective, Sheikh Ezzidin Abdulkader says: "It is legally prohibited to repair a hymen, let alone performing it secretly. A girl must not avoid drowning by drowning other persons. This is viewed as fraudulent behaviour and fraud is legally prohibited." The Sheikh, however, notes that there are texts that legitimize hymenoplasty if virginity is lost in an accident, for example. In that event, hymenoplasty is not a sin, according to Sheikh Abdulkader.

As for abortion, says Sheikh Abdulkader, "Jurists and religious clerics prohibit terminating a pregnancy once the spirit has been breathed into the foetus. Avoiding a scandal cannot be sufficient justification for killing an innocent soul."

Laws and prohibitions, nevertheless, have not deterred girls from resorting to these practices as they feel that they have no other alternative if they want to live a normal life according to their society’s rules. "We live in a ruthless and hypocritical society, which is constantly spreading gossip and scandals, especially against girls,” says M.A. “Why should I worry about hearsay?"

Image: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images