Brazilian women are being forced to undergo virginity tests when seeking jobs in the education sector, it has been reported.

In the state of Sao Paulo, women aspiring to a career as teachers are required to undergo a series of invasive gynaecological examinations to prove they are not sexually active.

A pap smear to confirm they are free of cancers is a compulsory requirement and until recently, the education department also required women to have a colposcopy, used to detect disease.

Their applications would progress on presentation of a doctor's certificate confirming that they are virgins.

The issue came to light 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.

It's claimed that the purpose of the tests is to ensure that candidates for long-term teaching positions are in good health and would not take extended or frequent absences to attend to health matters.

"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," a statement from the department said.

The department also requires other health exams, such as mammograms for women and prostate tests for men older than 40.

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.

The tests are not specific to the education department, with other states and federal agencies having similar requirements as part of the application process.

Women's rights campaign groups have denounced the practice as a gross violation of women's privacy and their human dignity.

Ana Paula de Oliveria Castro, a vocal champion for women's rights in Sao Paulo, said: "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."

Brazil's national Special Secretariat for Women's Rights said it was 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," a statement said.

"Such policies violate constitutional protections of human dignity and the principle of equality and right to private life."

The bar association of Sao Paulo said the practice was unconstitutional. The group 'Catholics for the Right to Choose,' also complained about the requirement, saying in a statement: "We are living in the Middle Ages!"

Last year, a similar incident sparked anger in the state of Bahia, in north-eastern Brazil, when female candidates for police jobs were asked to take the tests or prove their hymens were not torn.

The government has demanded that such tests be eliminated.