3. Virginity Testing: Racism, Sexism, and British Immigration Control

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3. Virginity Testing: Racism, Sexism, and British Immigration Control

A Victorian-era vaginal speculum.
A Victorian-era vaginal speculum.

Evan Smith and Marinella Marmo
Flinders University

How racist and sexist attitudes formed in the Victorian era resulted in the harsh and discriminatory treatment of women by the immigration control system in the 1960s and 1970s.

In February 1979, The Guardian reported that a number of women had been given gynaecological examinations by immigration control staff in the UK and at British High Commissions in South Asia, in a practice colloquially known as ‘virginity testing’. These tests were predominantly performed on South Asian women seeking to enter the UK on fiancée visas, which were not subject to waiting lists under the Immigration Act 1971. But while these rules allowed fiancées to enter without much paperwork, British immigration officials were also highly suspicious that these visas were being abused, feeding off a wider belief that many South Asian migrants were coming to Britain under false pretences. [continue reading]