In 2016, the murder of an infamous social media star made waves. The brother of Qandeel Baloch suffocated her to death in her home village for posting sexually provocative content online.
In a country where Mullas preach modesty, many deemed Qandeel’s sexual personality unacceptable. As such, the killing of women deemed as ‘impure’ by society is not uncommon in Pakistan. The murder of a 19-year-old woman named Khanzadi Lashari – strangled to death by her husband as he believed she had not been a virgin on their wedding night – is a testament to this.
Women in Pakistan have faced detrimental consequences for failing to appear a ‘virgin’. Some have been divorced, while others have been killed. The patriarchal society of Pakistan places a high premium on what it assumes to be a woman’s virginity. Strict, patriarchal norms in Pakistan have resulted in the generational oppression of women on this very basis.
Over 73% of Pakistani women are a victim of sexual abuse by their intimate partners. Keeping in mind the cultural and religious norms of Pakistani society, such statistics are no longer surprising. In many rural parts of the country, it is a tradition for a newlywed woman to place a white cloth on the marital bed before intercourse. The alleged blood-stained sheets are then shown to the mother-in-law for approval, to prove the fact that the new woman in the house is pure by societal standards.
Yet, this method is ineffective as the hymen can break due to occurrences other than sexual intercourse. Examples include horseback riding, stretching, heavy menstruation as well as the simple fact that some women are just born with an elastic hymen. And then there are practices like the ‘Two Finger Test’ in which individuals insert one or more fingers inside the female genitals to assess the size of the vaginal opening to check penetrability. If the vagina admits two or more fingers then the woman is likely to have been sexually active and is likely to be shunned.
Misconceptions regarding female sexuality and anatomy can take a dangerous turn when brought into medical practice. Despite the ban in the majority of the countries around the world, virginity testing remains a common practice in Pakistan performed on rape victims and on women who their family thinks lost their “purity”(virginity) before marriage.
Such was the case with 16-year-old Zara, in 2007, who had been abducted and raped. The police refused to file a report until she arranged a medico-legal officer. As the female nurse confirmed that Zara had not been a virgin, her family shunned her for pre-marital sex, ignoring that she had just been raped.
The World Health Organisation alongside other human rights groups, such as War Against Rape, have shunned this procedure calling it trauma-inducing, a sexual assault in itself, and has gone on to say that the practice bears no scientific roots.
The negative attitude regarding female sexuality is also reflected in Pakistan’s religiously manipulated law started with former President Zia-ul-Haq’s “Islamization’. This incorporated Zina (stoning to death) into Pakistani law and the Hudood Ordinance blurred the lines between rape and adultery. It legislated that a victim’s inability to prove their claim of assault would have them face charges of fornication. This law was only repealed in 2006 when the Protection of Women Act classified rape as drastically different from adultery and revised sections of Pakistan’s Penal Code that dealt with the crime.