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Albania: Virginity pressures bring women to the operating table

Publication Date: 
April 29, 2012

Tirana, ALBANIA: A secret crisis for women is happening in Albania. It has to do with a women’s health, identity, chastity and marriage. According to confirmations by doctors at gynaecological clinics in Albania’s capital city of Tirana, up to three young women each day are undergoing a surgical procedure in Tirana: a simple 20-minute gynaecological intervention to become virgins again.

Usually falling between the ages of 18 and 30, these women have decided to put their past sexual relations behind them physically as they decide to ‘present themselves new’ as virgins to the man they have chosen to marry.

Operations in Secret
Banned by gynaecological clinic rules, most operations are performed in secret. While they are not banned or mentioned in any piece of the Albanian law, medical secrecy is the code doctors use in handling the procedure by those who request it.

According to Tirana based gynaecologists and sociologists, this has become a growing phenomenon in the past 20 years. Experts outline that much of the problem may be due to a high Albanian male emigration to Western Europe.

It is not hard to find someone to carry out the operation. “It is not legal, but we list it as a simple gynaecological check-up,” explains the gynaecologist who prefers to remain anonymous. Questioned as to whether this she performs such operations or not, this  gynaecologist answers: yes she does it because she has “no choice.”

The Added Value of Virginity

“It is a very complex phenomenon that does not concern girls coming from rural areas only,” says Rubena Moisiu, head of the Kiço Gliozheni clinic in Tirana. “Anything but, in fact. The majority of operations take place in Tirana and the major urban centres of the Country,” added Moisiu.

Many Albanian men who emigrate look for wives in their home country. They often keep long-distance relationships, because of this female virginity is back in vogue in the region as a synonym of faithfulness and potential trust in the female partner, as well as a good omen for difficult distance relationships.

“It is not only due to the phenomenon of male emigration,” said a gynaecologist from Tirana who prefers to keep her identity hidden. “It is directly connected to the chauvinism rooted in Albanian society. Male sexual freedom is well accepted, while female sexual freedom becomes a disadvantage once women get married,” she continued.

Moral Gynaecology

‘Until the 1950s in Albania women felt like they had to ‘hang out a blood-stained sheet’ after the first wedding night to prove virginity to a husband, relatives and neighbors. Today the pressure for women to be virgins in Albania society has returned. “Some women even come to the clinic accompanied by their partners, who want to verify their young wives’ virginity when they do not bleed during their first sexual act. This happens in 38% of cases,” the anonymous gynaecologist outlines.

“These are desperate girls whose future, whose happiness, depend on trivial things such as this. It is not their fault, it is the men’s fault: it is them [the men] who have this type of patriarchal and backward mentality,” she adds.

Less than 20 minutes under a local anaesthetic, a cost of 200 Euros ($265 USD) in a private operation at a public clinic, and women are ready to lose their virginity again. In private clinics, however, the costs are higher. According to gynaecologists, many women use the private medical settings for their surgery escaping any possibility of their surgery being included in informal statistics gathered and published by the Albanian media.

Of course as all operations go, this one also has side effects that should not go unmentioned. “With this operation women are prone to infections and inflammations of different kinds. During the sexual act, the haemorrhage can be greater than normal and, in extreme cases, it can lead to the woman’s death,” the gynaecologist explains.

Sexuality - Albanian Style

Since the fall of Communism, the way young Albanians relate to each other has undergone radical changes as it has moved toward greater sexual freedom. Many sociologists have defined the phenomenon as a full “sexual revolution.” It is not comparable to the Western model though as it is devoid of Western based feminist features or left-wing political ideologies.

The current ‘so-called’ sexual revolution in Albania finds women today in weaker socio-economic conditions compared to 20 years ago. In an Albanian society that increasingly promotes values that are typically male and better suited for power politics and economic capitalism, women are often completely excluded from positions that include leadership or decision making.

According to the latest statistics most Albanians lose their virginity around the age of 13, the lowest age surveyed among countries in the Balkans. Additional data published by Albania’s Public Health Institute shows that most youngsters live their sexuality naturally and without feeling any moral or religious pressures from society.

This data however is in obvious contradiction with the ‘return to virginity’ trend. Vocal public opinions of young men filling the Albanian blogosphere with statements about the ‘need for virginity’ seem to be inconsistent with the public Albanian data on sexuality and society.

Blogosphere, Virginity and Sexuality
“I’d never marry one of the girls I’ve had, I wouldn’t trust them,” said a man who adds his comments on one of the numerous Albanian public forum threads on the subject. While another man compares his relationship with a woman to be similar to the one he has with his “brand-new” car, he compares the advantages of virginity with buying a “new not used car.” Despite extreme and numerous chauvinistic comments by young men, there are few women, or others in Albania, who try to make people see the hypocrisy of the idea of a woman’s ‘re-virgination.’

Forum comments are mainly posted by very young people and feature a sexual model where the man is traditionally less penalized by society, while the women remain ‘vulnerable.’ “It is the same kind of vulnerability of some rural and patriarchal societies that have not undergone industrialization and urbanization,” explains Zyhdi Dervishi, university professor and author of “Women in the Eye of the Storm,” a compendium that covers the history of women in Albania.

The Legacy of the Regime

Albania’s cultural legacy, still rooted in the country, has not provided many positive contributions to women. The regime of former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who was in office from 8 November, 1941 until his death on 11 April, 1985, has reinforced the most traditional aspects of Albanian society: the sense of clan-family and sexuality bound by a sense of honor. This distinction also given the idea of ‘chastity’ its own ‘political value’ in Albania.

Virginity was, and still is, considered a moral value going hand-in-hand with a clean political record. It is also still considered anything but private. Often in numerous cases communities make decisions about the most personal aspects of a relationship, instead of the couple themselves, who make their own decisions.

“In the Balkans we have not had the same social development as in Western Europe,” outlines Dervishi. “…In a way we can say that virginity holds more or less the same value it did in 19th century Western Europe.”

 

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In May 2010 Albanian pop music celebrity Juliana Pasha represented her country at the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo, Norway with a song that reveals tAlbanian society’s image of the bride and women’s chastity inside the Albania pop culture.  http://www.eurovision.tv.