Pakistan State Outlaws Virginity Test
By John Velasquez
Women protesting virginity tests. (Image: India Times)
The Lahore High Court in Punjab Province (the home of 110 million people and the most populous province in Pakistan) proclaimed the practice of virginity tests illegal. They stated that it has “no medical basis” and “offends the personal dignity of the female victim and therefore is against the right to life and right to dignity.” This ruling set a precedent in Pakistan. As a result, many other states might follow suit and also ban this humiliating and invasive practice.
In March and June of 2020, two petitions were filed in Lahore by a group of women’s rights activists. They argued that not only are the tests intrusive and unscientific, but also a source of trauma. Justice Ayesha Malik, a judge in the Lahore High Court, stated that the test is “highly invasive” and had “no scientific or medical requirement.” In addition, Malik said, “It is a humiliating practice, which is used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence.”
The virginity test is conducted through the inspection of the hymen. The inspection is done by inserting two fingers into the vagina. This invasive examination is performed under the belief that it allows nurses or doctors to determine whether or not the female is a virgin. These tests are conducted before marriage and even to evaluate employment eligibility. In addition, according to CNN, “in some regions, the exam is performed on rape victims to determine whether or not a sexual assault occurred.” This is a practice that is employed to cast suspicion on the victim, instead of focusing on the incident itself and the alleged sexual violence. According to the World Health Organization, this is a long-standing tradition that can be found all over the world.
Many women’s rights activists are ecstatic about this ruling and hope other provinces in Pakistan will follow this banning. As of now, in Sindh province, a second petition is pending. Also, virginity tests have discouraged a multitude of rape victims because they do not wish to undergo the procedure. In addition, many women who underwent virginity tests have been accused of being “habituated to sex” and assumptions have been made about their sexual history. Pakistan, for women, is one of the most dangerous countries to be in because of its high rates of sexual assault - but low conviction rates - and violence, including honor killings. Honor killings, also known as shame killings, are when members of the family or community are killed due to the belief that they brought shame and disgrace to the family. In this case, women may be forced to undergo an honor killing because they were accused of habituating to sex.
According to the World Health Organization and United Nations, at least 20 countries have been documented in performing virginity tests. In addition, although some countries have outlawed it, reports of women being forced to undergo them were still being made. Hopefully, we can put an end to this invasive, demeaning, and humiliating practice for good.