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Women move Lahore court to declare virginity testing unlawful

Such tests are still conducted on rape survivors

SAMAA | - Posted: Mar 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Mar 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Women have moved the Lahore High Court to stop authorities from conducting virginity tests.

The petition, which was filed on Wednesday, argues that tests such as the ‘two-finger test’ and examination of the hymen are medically incorrect and should be banned.

In Pakistan, virginity tests are conducted on rape survivors to check if they have had sexual intercourse before. The assumption is that a woman must be a virgin for her to be raped, said lawyer Maliha Zia Lari, one of the petitioners in the case.

Such tests are an inaccurate way of testing for rape and they violate a woman’s space and dignity, she added.

The petition argues that it has now “conclusively established that these so-called ‘tests’ have no scientific or medical basis.” They are an “extreme invasion of [women’s] privacy and bodily integrity as well as a source of re-traumatisation.”

There is “no place for these outdated practices under the Constitution,” says the petition.  

The petition has asked for such tests to be declared illegal and discontinue phrases such as “habituated to sex”, “easy virtue” and “loose morals” while referring to women in medical reports.

Arguments will be heard by Justice Ayesha A Malik on April 20.

What are virginity tests?

Virginity tests are commonly performed on rape survivors in Pakistan. There are two ways in which they are conducted:

  • Inspection of the hymen

The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the opening of the vagina. This test assumes that only the hymen of women who have engaged in sexual activity is torn. There are, however, a number of reasons why a woman hymen could’ve been torn such as physical activity, horse riding, and working in the fields, among others.

  • Two-finger test

One or more fingers are inserted inside the vagina to assess the size of the vaginal opening to check penetrability. This test assumes that if the vagina admits two or more fingers then the woman is likely to have been sexually active.

“The premise of the tests is flawed because of the underlying assumption that only the overt use of force can result in a lack of consent to a sexual encounter and [women] who have suffered as a result of covert use of force should be presumed to have consented,” the petition states.

The World Health Organisation has clearly said that there is no medical basis for such tests, says the petition.

“Neither the size of the vaginal opening, nor the ease with which the fingers can be admitted, or the state of the hymen are medically sound indications of prior sexual activity,” it adds. Such tests are banned in India and Bangladesh.

Why the virginity tests are problematic

In Pakistan, the ways through which the authorities get the consent of rape survivors for these tests is questionable, says the petition.

The survivors are “either completely unaware or not informed in enough detail with sufficient sensitivity,” it says. They are not informed that they have the right to refuse to consent to these tests. They don’t realise that they have “consented to the disclosure of the results of these tests to third parties”.

“Instead of punishing violence against women, the reliance of the justice system on such tests actually results in a far more insidious form of violence upon women inflicted by the State itself,” the petition adds.

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