SAO PAULO (AP) -- Women seeking education jobs in Brazil's most populous state should not be required to submit to gynecological exams or prove their virginity in order to work, according to women's rights advocates who denounced the practice on Friday.
The education department of Sao Paulo state requires female prospective teachers to undergo a pap smear in order to prove they are free of a variety of cancers, or to present a doctor's statement verifying they have not been sexually active. Until recently, it also required women to have a colposcopy, a type of visual examination used to detect disease.
The department since at least 2012 has required the exams to show that candidates for long-term teaching positions are in good health and would not take extended or frequent absences to attend to health matters. Critics, however, decried it as an invasion of privacy.
"It violates women's rights. It's very intimate information that she has the right to keep. It's absurd to continue with these demands," said Ana Paula de Oliveira Castro, a public defender of women's issues in Sao Paulo.
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.
The public management department for Sao Paulo said that all tests ordered follow the standards and recommendation of the country's Health Ministry for public servants as well as state law. In a statement, it also said that other states and federal agencies have similar requirements.
"The health inspections are intended to ensure, beyond technical ability, the physical and mental ability of candidates to keep their jobs for an average of 25 years," the emailed statement said.
While the department requires other health exams, such as a mammography for women and a prostate test for men older than 40, the gynecological exams were criticized as especially invasive.
The issue came to light this week after a news site interviewed a 27-year-old woman who said she was ashamed to ask a doctor for a note declaring she was still a virgin to escape the other tests.
The bar association of Sao Paulo said the practice was unconstitutional. The group Catholics for the Right to Choose also complained about it, saying in a statement "We are living in the Middle Ages!"
Last year, a similar incident sparked anger in the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, when female candidates for police jobs were asked to take the tests or prove their hymens were not torn. The government subsequently asked that such tests be eliminated.