Globally, 2020 has been a year of despair, grief and pain. In Pakistan, as we battled the health pandemic, we also wrestled with an increase in violence against marginalised communities across the country. Headlines were dominated by reports of heinous crimes against women, girls, and transgender folks, with responses reeking of misogyny and sexism, and no refugee nor justice in sight.
Within the first week of 2021, a historical court decision may have brought some glimmer of hope back. Lahore High Court ruled against two finger testing conducted on sexual violence (rape) survivors to determine if the hymen was intact and thus, if rape occurred. This decision was celebrated among feminists activists and organisations alike, as it symbolised a win against the patriarchal notions of virginity, denial of justice and perpetuation of systemic violence against survivors.
While this decision serves as a precedent for other provinces to follow, an important reflection from this process is to be noted; it was the leading member of the bench, a woman who ruled out the unsubstantiated practice that had been carried on for years despite evidence and leading health organisations and science debunking it, and it serving no purpose in the carriage of justice. It begs one to consider whether this practice would have ever culminated had a woman not been a part of this decision making bench.
Women in Pakistan have always been change-makers, from the feminist movement against the Hudood Ordinances to the community of transwomen successfully ensuring their identities were recognised on the national identification cards. Even today, strong women-led groups continue to push back on oppressive and systemic violences, leading from the front and organising massive rallies, protests and demonstrations. Pakistani women have resisted dictators, overthrown oppressive legislation, protected rights, produced literature that generated discourse beyond its time, reclaimed spaces and language through movement building and organising.
This is precisely why representation matters. Why its important to have strong feminist leaders in decision making and dispute spaces. While this country continues to be one of the most dangerous places for women, it is the very women in the country that provide strength and will for other women to carry on.