The two-finger test continues to traumatise rape survivors in Pakistan

To this day, sexual assault victims are subjected to the medically unreliable—and unnecessary— virginity test
Updated 07 Apr, 2020 03:04pm

In the summer of 2007, a 16-year-old Zara* was abducted from outside her house and raped.

It was her 40-year-old neighbour, a man who lived with his wife and three children in Karachi’s Korangi.

Three days later, her uncle recovered her from the attacker’s house. Her family took her to the police station to file a report.

The police then told the victim’s family to arrange a medico-legal officer. There was none available in any of the public hospitals in the city, as it was raining that night.

The next day, a female doctor performed the test.

“She inserted two fingers inside me and I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t know that would happen,” Zara recalled.

“She then told me you’re not a virgin.”

Based on her "virginity test", the doctor told Zara’s family that she has had sex before she was raped. Zara eventually had to tell them about her boyfriend of two years.

“For a moment, they forgot I had been raped and started to shout at me, telling me I am a black mark on my family’s reputation.”

Zara eventually fled Pakistan with her boyfriend after a few years. She still shivers when she thinks about the day.

“The virginity test scarred me for life.”

But Zara is not alone, sexual abuse victims are subjected to the inhumane “two-finger” test even today.

A custom of the colonial era, the “virginity test” involves an examination of female genitalia to check its size and elasticity. But despite being banned in most countries, including India and Bangladesh, the practice continues to be the norm in Pakistan.

The two-finger test "is rape in itself"

Based on the result, the doctor concludes the sexual history of the survivor. If an unmarried woman is considered sexually active, it is often reckoned as “morally wrong”.

Virginity testing, also called"two-finger testing", is unscientific, harmful, and a violation of women's and girls' human rights— WHO
Virginity testing, also called"two-finger testing", is unscientific, harmful, and a violation of women's and girls' human rights— WHO

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the test is “unethical”, as a detailed examination of the hymen alone is often questionable in cases of suspected rape.

Apart from the violation of human rights, the test “could cause additional pain and mimic the original act of sexual violence, leading to re-experience, re-traumatization and re-victimization.”

Related: It's time Pakistan banned the two-finger test for decoding consent in rape trials

“The test is rape in itself,” says Sheraz Ahmed, Program Officer at War Against Rape (WAR), an NGO that assists survivors of sexual assault to report cases and provides legal advisory services, including counselling, and empower women during the rehabilitation process.

“Our system does not know how to cater to sexual abuse victims,” Ahmed remarked.

The continued practice of these virginity tests allow for the spread of myths and inaccuracies about the female anatomy while ignoring the predominance of different forms of sexual violence which women are subject to, including child sexual abuse and marital rape.


“At first, their family doesn’t believe them, their clothes are judged, and then they have to give their statements in a male-dominated police station, where the police intimidate or pester them with the same questions. They [victims] are further humiliated with unhygienic and inconclusive examinations. Next comes the court hearing, where victims sometimes even have to give statements in front of their attacker.”

Lack of expertise

Most medico-legal officers are not trained to conduct the examination, says Asiya Munir, an in-house lawyer at WAR. “Sometimes the person conducting the medico-legal exam has no clue of what to do and I have even seen them read instructions from chits,” she added.

There is no formal training provided to the medico-legal officers and they are not sensitized to deal with people who have experienced trauma, the lawyer revealed.

Munir assists an average of 18 rape cases every day, most of which involve underage girls.

“While the degrading virginity test is taking place, most girls scream,” she recounted. “It brings back all the memories of the actual assault.”

Virginity testing can lead to harmful mental - as well as physical - health consequences—WHO
Virginity testing can lead to harmful mental - as well as physical - health consequences—WHO

In most cases, the officer performing the examination does not ask for the survivor’s permission before conducting the test or explains the procedure.

Part of Munir’s job is to make sure the medico-legal officer follows the right protocol. “WAR is aware of the standardized MLO practices, but when we tell the hospital staff to follow them, they hardly ever listen to us,” she remarked.

“If the two-finger test is banned by the state, only then can we make sure that it is being implemented,” she advises.

Shortage of MLOs

Apart from using outdated practices, the state is ineffective to hire adequate women medico-legal officers (MLOs).

“There are only four women MLOs in Karachi,” Ahmed disclosed. The shortage of MLOs creates a hindrance for rape victims and their families, who often have to wait days to get the examination conducted.

In October 2018, the UN Human Rights, UN Women, and the World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint report said virginity testing was a long-standing tradition documented in at least 20 countries across the world. “


“At least 15 women MLOs should be hired, so there is always someone available on duty,” suggested Ahmed. “Also, women police officers must be present at police stations at all times,” he added.

Ahmed pointed out that hiring more experts alone would not be the solution, as they need to be sensitized and trained as well. An official at WAR assured that they will educate the medico-legal professionals, provided the government hires them and implements sexual assault documentation protocols.

The police, magistrates, and judges too, need to be sensitized to effectively deal with rape and sexual abuse survivors.

Petition to ban the practice

Over the years, efforts have been made to curb the practice.

One of the demands of Aurat March was to ban the test. "The barbaric and unscientific two-finger and virginity tests in rape cases and their use as evidence to establish consent in court be banned in line with the laws (2016 amendments and 2017 Mandatory DNA Act)," states the charter of demands.

Virginity testing is rooted in social norms that emphasize control of women's and girls' sexuality and bodies—WHO
Virginity testing is rooted in social norms that emphasize control of women's and girls' sexuality and bodies—WHO

However, it was on March 5, when a petition was filed to challenge the ‘two-finger test’ on the ground that the tests are “medically unreliable and unnecessary, have no scientific basis, and are a relic of colonial-era practices that have no place under the Pakistani constitution.”

The petition also states that “virginity tests” are conducted on women without their informed consent and present a serious risk to their mental and emotional health.

Read: Petition seeks end to virginity test on rape complainants

The petitioners (Sadaf Aziz, Farida Shaheed, Farieha Aziz, Farah Zia, Sarah Zaman, Maliha Zia Lari, Dr. Asha Bedar, and Zainab Husain) are a group of women from Lahore comprising activists, lawyers, doctors, academics, journalists, and researchers who have filed the petition in the public interest and are represented by their lawyers, Sameer Khosa and Maria Farooq.

A custom of the colonial era, the “virginity test” involves an examination of female genitalia to check its size and elasticity. But despite being banned in most countries, including India and Bangladesh, the practice continues to be the norm in Pakistan.


They have sought a declaration that these practices constitute a violation of the fundamental rights of women assured under the Constitution, including the “rights to life, privacy, dignity, bodily integrity, access to justice, protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom from discrimination.”

The continued practice of these virginity tests allow for the spread of myths and inaccuracies about the female anatomy while ignoring the predominance of different forms of sexual violence which women are subject to, including child sexual abuse and marital rape, the petition stated.

Why people are hesitant to report

The test is also one of the reasons why parents and victims themselves are reluctant to file a rape case, Munir asserted. “While I know these [rape and sexual abuse] cases won’t stop in Pakistan, we can at least make the process hygienic and less agonizing for the survivors by following WHO-approved medico-legal practices,” she added.

Munir suggested that the police too should be given guidelines to adopt internationally recognized practices.

“Little to no trust in police and low conviction rates prevent women from reporting assaults,” the lawyer said. “Hospital staff is also often unsupportive, and it becomes an extremely harrowing experience for victims.”

The test is a violation of human rights and should have been banned in Pakistan years ago. It is a form of gender discrimination, and when not carried out without the examinee’s consent, it is a type of sexual assault.


In October 2018, the UN Human Rights, UN Women, and the World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint report said virginity testing was a long-standing tradition documented in at least 20 countries across the world. “Women and girls are subjected and often forced, to undergo virginity testing for various reasons. These include requests from parents or potential partners to establish marriage eligibility or from employers for employment eligibility,” the report stated.

The hymen, per-vaginal examination, or “two-finger” examination is an inconclusive practice which can be psychologically and physically devastating to the victim.

Health care professionals must never perform or recommend virginity testing—WHO
Health care professionals must never perform or recommend virginity testing—WHO

The test is a violation of human rights and should have been banned in Pakistan years ago. It is a form of gender discrimination, and when not carried out without the examinee’s consent, it is a type of sexual assault.

While the petition to ban the practice is a step forward in the right direction, legislative changes should be followed up with sound implementation.

There have been landmark changes in Pakistan’s rape laws (which are all in the favour of the victim) but due to lack of awareness, most victims are not able to exercise these rights.

For example, a section has been removed, which states that the prosecution cannot bring up a victim’s sexual history in a rape case.

There are many other actions the state should take, to fully eliminate the practice and protect victims of further trauma, and make the criminal system more just.

After all, two fingers alone cannot tell the truth.