Two Finger Test Banned In Landmark Decision by Justice Ayesha Malik
In a historic decision, Justice Ayesha Malik passed a ruling on 4th January that banned the use of invasive virginity tests for victims of sexual assault.
““Virginity testing is highly invasive, having no scientific or medical requirement, yet carried out in the name of medical protocols in sexual violence cases,” reads part of the 30 page report issued by Justice Malik.
WHO has called out such practices as inhumane and unnecessary multiple times but there’s certain reasons why it has taken us this long to get rid of it.
The main one, Pakistan has a rape problem. It may sound harsh, or aggressive or ‘vulgar’ but if there’s anything we’ve learnt over the past few years in particular it’s that it is also the unfortunate truth. The issue of sexual assault, victim blaming and the sexualisation of women’s bodies as a way of claiming ownership over them has existed for years. In fact, sexual violence became a key tool in partition as a way to inflict pain on communities on both sides. Whether it is legal or economic systems that place women beneath the ‘security’ of male guardians, or social norms that police women’s bodies - at its root, the issue of sexual violence and the prevalence of this crime stems from an accepted belief that women’s bodies are not theirs to own.
The recent motorway rape incident in September raised outcry on both global and local platforms in a way that had previously never been done before. It brought increased scrutiny onto the way victims of sexual assault are treated not such socially, but within the legal system as well. For years, victims of sexual assaults have been subjected to the barbaric test known as the “Two Finger Test”, only for it to finally be abolished in yesterday’s landmark ruling. The test is not only physically invasive, but also emotionally damaging for victims forced to go through it. It is a constant reminder to victims that the system they trusted in by speaking out is the very thing that seeks to silence their stories by generating distrust around what they say.
This victory is a massive step towards much needed change, and yet while seeming so big it seems small at the same time. Perhaps small, because in some ways this is long overdue. Activist Aimen Rizvi, who conducted research on the test 3 years ago spoke about the structural issues regarding the treatment of rape victims that go far beyond the test itself.
The significance of the ban however, should not be underestimated even when recognising the journey we still have to undertake for Pakistan to allow women’s bodies to exist as their own. The ban is a reminder of the change feminists in the country have made with their voices, their struggles and their fighting every day for change. It is a testament to what can be achieved when women are let into the spaces that can create change, and the potential we have as a country when gender disparity continues to be countered.
As a feminist in Pakistan, looking for spaces around feminist discourse and hoping that discourse moves to action is exhausting - and I say this as someone who has only dealt with the emotional labour so I can’t even imagine the feelings of those who work day in and day out both physically and emotionally to make such changes possible. But that change is possible, and the decision by Justice Malik follows decades worth of struggles to stop the gross policing of women’s bodies and the forced sexualisation that women are forced to undergo within even their most traumatic experiences
In the 30 page report surrounding the verdict, Justice Malik also recognised the importance of further sensitivity training and the importance of taking care of victims of sexual assault.
She also directed the Punjab government to devise "appropriate medico-legal protocol and guidelines and standard operating procedures" according to established international practices to "recognise and manage sensitively the care of victims of sexual violence".
"This includes regular training and awareness programmes so that all stakeholders understand that virginity tests have no clinical or forensic value," Justice Malik wrote in the judgement.
The petitions were filed by PML-N member of the National Assembly Shaista Pervez Malik and women rights activists, academics, journalists and advocates. They include Sadaf Aziz, Farida Shaheed, Farieha Aziz, Farah Zia, Sarah Zaman, Maliha Zia Lari, Dr Aisha Babar and Zainab Husain. Advocate Sahar Zareen Bandial and Barrister Sameer Khosa represented the petitioners.
The ban and judgement surrounding it has once again caught the attention of international media, which perhaps remains one of our only checks and balances to push for change because local voices are seen as sub-par. But it is time we all remember that this much needed change comes due to the countless efforts of Pakistani women and Pakistani activists who go to any lengths to make this country a better place. If there was ever a reason to believe in the importance of the feminist movement, let this decision be it.