As a 33-year-old woman I have never regarded myself as anything other than that – a woman.

I work and earn my own money. I make my own decisions. I am held accountable for those decisions and have to live through the consequences of my poor judgments and learn and grow through them. So when I was called a “girl” by a colleague, I was less than impressed. At first I was unsure why she referred to me as a girl and not a woman, after all, we are only a few years apart in age. A few seconds later I realized that it was because I was an unmarried woman. She saw me as a girl – for reasons related to my virginity.

Within Islam, there is value and importance placed on virginity for both men and women that go far beyond simplistic reasons or Victorian-style moralistic ideals. It is part of the contract that Muslim men and women make with their Creator.

I have also heard deeply spiritual women talk about the spiritual aspect of sex and how it impacts the spiritual dimension of marriage, growth of the relationship and also the spiritual state of the woman. As I am not an expert on this issue I shall talk no further on this – though it is wildly interesting and a not enough talked about aspect of marriage.

I am by no means denigrating virginity and neither am I holding it up as the utmost value to be placed on a woman. I know women who are no longer virgins, yet have never been married but who have decided to walk the path of the deen despite what they regard as their past “indiscretions”. I know women who firmly believe that being a virgin until marriage has been a strengthening factor in their relationships with their husbands. I know women who are virgins and somehow feel infantilized as if they are not true women. The point is – I know women.

Virginity is an aspect of womanhood that impacts a woman physically, emotionally and spiritually. But it is just an aspect.

We live in a world where women are in every societal space. Women are achieving more, studying more, earning more and gaining more. And despite all these achievements, struggles and triumphs to still be regarded as a girl is quite frankly horrendous.

When a woman has the desire to be married but has not yet found a partner, does that make her less of woman? Does it make her less of a woman as she makes her way through life on her own and without the support, protection and love of a man? I think not.

I refuse to believe that a 19-year-old with little education and less life experience who moved from her father’s home to her husband’s home is a woman, whereas an unmarried woman who spent 30 years of her life teaching and counselling children in disadvantaged communities is a girl because her lack of sexual activity. This type of single-mindedness is diminishing, condescending and insulting to every woman out there. The hymen (broken or intact) does not a woman make.