On Monday, a court in Lahore outlawed invasive examination of rape victims — a longstanding practice in the Islamic country used to assess a woman’s so-called honor.
The test involves a medical examiner inserting two fingers into a woman’s vagina to determine her virginity. According to the World Health Organization, the procedure holds no scientific merit.
The Lahore High Court judges ruled the practice “offends the personal dignity of the female victim and therefore is against the right to life and right to dignity.”
In March 2020, women’s rights activists filed a case against the practice and demanded that it be outlawed. A similar case is being heard in the Sindh High Court and women’s rights activists hope the Lahore court ruling will set a precedent for a nationwide ban.
Neighboring India banned the “two-finger” test in 2013 and Bangladesh followed suit in 2018.
Rape victims describe the two-finger test as a “second trauma” after the sexual assault, which leaves psychological scars.
Mukhtaran Mai, a 2002 gang rape survivor and rights activist, says the two-finger virginity test discourages women to report sexual assaults. “It is used to humiliate women in courts. I also went through it, and I cannot describe the humiliation,” Mai told DW.
“It feels like a second trauma. From the police station to hospital, everyone stares at you,” she added.
Mai said that even after a rape victim goes through the test, police could manipulate its result, which creates more problems for the women.
Sexual crimes against women are widespread in the Muslim-majority South Asian country, with recent rape cases in public places causing huge uproar in society.
Rape victims often face social stigma, and sexual assaults are vastly underreported in the country. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that weak laws and complicated procedures for prosecution make it difficult to punish the culprits.
Sahar Bandial, one of the lawyers who filed the petition against intrusive rape test, told DW that the practice is a violation of a woman’s body. “It is character assassination. The victim’s testimony is discredited in the court of law. The test is a violation of human dignity, the right to life, the right to medical care. In short, it is discriminatory,” Bandial said.
Activists and lawyers took it to the Lahore Hight court because the parliament would not abolish it, she explained. “It is not a law; it is a decades-long practice,” Bandial said.
The lawyer said that although the Lahore court’s decision applies only to Punjab, it is likely to set a precedent for other provinces.
Rights activist Farzana Bari hailed the court’s decision but said that more anti-women laws need to be abolished. “For instance, the woman’s age is discredited in adultery cases, and a woman’s testimony is not considered equal to that of a man’s in rape and gang rapes cases. These laws must be scrapped,” Bari told DW.
Bushra Gohar, a former parliamentarian, says she hopes the government will implement the court’s decision at all levels.
Pakistan ranks sixth on the list of the world’s most dangerous countries for women. Since 2015, more than 22,037 rape cases have been reported in the country, according to government data. Activists say it is just the tip of an iceberg as a large number of rape cases are not reported in the country.
The conviction rate in rape cases is also very low. Out of the 22,037 rape cases, 4,060 are pending in courts, while only 77 offenders have been convicted.
On September 9, two men dragged a woman and her children out of their car on a highway, raped her in front of her kids and robbed her. The incident took place near the eastern city of Lahore.
A call for help to police did not receive a response, a family member said. Lahore’s former police chief, Umer Sheikh, sparked an uproar after he said that the crime was the woman’s fault as she left the house at night and drove on an empty road.
Amid public outrage, the government last month approved chemical castration and death penalty as part of a new anti-rape law. Rights groups have criticized the legislation as regressive, saying it would not solve Pakistan’s rape problem.
Pakistan virginity test – how rape victims go through a ‘second trauma’ The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.