Culture, Abstinence, and Human Rights: Zulu Use of Virginity Testing in South Africa’s Battle against AIDS

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Title: Culture, Abstinence, and Human Rights: Zulu Use of Virginity Testing in South Africa’s Battle against AIDS
Authors: Rumsey, Carolyn A.
Date: 2012
Abstract: Virginity Testing, a traditional Zulu pre-nuptial custom that determines the worth of a bride, has been resurrected in communities in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The practice takes place during large community festivals when young girls have their genitals physically examined to determine whether they are virgins and results are made public. Supporters of the tradition claim that in fostering a value of chastity among its youth, it encourages abstinence from sexual intercourse which leads to a lower HIV infection rate and prevents the disease from spreading. Human rights activists disagree; Rather than slowing the spread of a disease, they argue, the practice instead endangers girls. Those who fail are often shunned and turn to prostitution, while those who pass may be exposed as potential targets for rape (due to a myth that says intercourse with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS). Despite a ban on the practice in 2005, the testing festivals continue, and are described by supporters as an important part of the preservation of Zulu culture. This thesis examines the ways in which human rights may be re-negotiated for young girls in Zulu communities while maintaining a respect for local culture. It moves beyond the traditional debate between relativism and universalism in order to propose solutions to rights violations in culturally diverse contexts by exploring ideas of inclusive human rights and capabilities theories.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/20617
http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-5389
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -
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