Pakistan’s Lahore High Court Bans Virginity Testing

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Jayanti Singla, Reporter

On January 4, the Lahore High Court banned all virginity tests on sexual assault survivors in the Punjab province of Pakistan. In a country with one of the highest annual rape counts, this ruling could prevent victim blaming and result in more incidents of sexual assault being reported.

In late 2020, the gang rape of a woman on the side of the highway in front of her children sparked nationwide protests. Soon after, the Pakistani President introduced a bill allowing harsher punishments for rapists and outlawing virginity testing, but it is unlikely Parliament will ratify it.

According to the W.H.O., virginity testing still occurs in at least 20 countries, including the United States. It is illegal in Pakistan’s neighboring countries of India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. 

Virginity tests are used exclusively on women to determine their sexual experience during sexual assault cases, before marriage, and to assess employment eligibility. The test involves a medical examiner inserting two fingers into the vagina to test elasticity and check for an intact hymen. These tests have no medical basis and are often traumatising.

If an examiner claims a victim is sexually active, she is likely to be discredited. This stems from the belief that women who have pre-marital sex lack virtue and are more likely to consent to sexual activity. As stated by Justice Ayesha A. Malik, who made the Lahore High Court’s decision, virginity tests are a “humiliating practice, which [are] used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused.”

Pakistan is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous countries for women. According to Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, the News International, since 2015, over 22,000 rape cases have been reported to the police, but only 77 convictions have been made (about 0.3%). Because of social stigma, only an estimated 41% of rapes are reported. 

Supporters of the ruling hope it will set a precedent for a nationwide ban. Currently, a similar case is being heard in Pakistan’s Sindh High Court. Following the decision of the Lahore High Court, activist Aiman Rizvi tweeted, “I am so grateful to all the women who have fought this battle for decades, and will continue fighting tomorrow. But for the rest of us, let’s not forget that this is the tip of the iceberg.”