LAHORE: The Lahore High Court seizes a challenge against an old practice of virginity testing on complainants of rape and sexual assault for being disrespectful, inhuman and violative to fundamental rights of women.

In a public interest petition pending with senior judge Justice Ayesha A Malik, notable women rights activists, academics, journalists and advocates plead that the intrusive and demeaning practice whereby medico-legal officers perform a hymen test and a “two-finger test” as part of medical evaluation of women victims is unreliable and unnecessary and has no scientific basis.

Petitioners Sadaf Aziz, Farida Shaheed, Farieha Aziz, Farah Zia, Sarah Zaman, Maliha Zia Lari, Dr Aisha Babar and Zainab Husain were represented by Barrister Sameer Khosa and advocate Maria Farooq on a previous hearing when the judge issued notices to the federal and Punjab governments for their replies on the matter.

The petition explains that the two-finger test usually involves inserting two fingers into the vagina, and is based on the flawed assumption that a woman “habituated to sexual intercourse” is less likely to have been raped.

It says the test is usually used in Pakistan despite calls for its revocation by healthcare professionals and human rights organisations world over.

However, it pleads that the continued use of the two-finger and hymen tests does not lead to any evidence that should be considered relevant to a trial, and is aimed solely at drawing conclusions about the character, morality, chastity, social standing, past sexual activity, and credibility of the women who are victims of these crimes.

It seeks a declaration that these practices constitute a violation of the fundamental rights of women including the rights to life, privacy, dignity, bodily integrity, access to justice, protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom from discrimination.

In addition, the petition argues that the practice of these tests allows for the circulation of myths and inaccuracies about the female anatomy while ignoring the prevalence of various forms of sexual violence against women and children.

The petition points out that the Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights and the World Health Organisation have also demanded the elimination of the two-finger test, with WHO asserting that “virginity testing is unscientific, medically unnecessary and unreliable.

The practice has also already been declared illegal by courts in India (2013) and Bangladesh (2018), it adds.

The petition asks the court to order the government authorities to immediately restrain the use or facilitation in any shape or form of virginity tests on women by any person regardless of the circumstances in which the test are conducted.

It pleads that the authorities be also ordered to take all necessary measures to ensure physical and mental health of all women undergoing medico-legal examinations and adopt more scientific methods of investigate claims of rape and sexual assault. The judge would resume hearing next month.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2020