Women in Bangladesh are no longer required to declare if they are virgins on marriage registration forms, the country’s top court has ruled.
The high court ordered that “virgin” be replaced with “unmarried”. The other two options in the form – “widow” and “divorced” – remain unchanged.
Women’s rights groups – who had argued the word “virgin” was humiliating – welcomed Sunday’s verdict.
Separately, the court said grooms now also must declare their marital status.
Marriage laws in Muslim-majority Bangladesh have been criticised by women’s rights groups as restrictive and discriminatory.
Many girls in the country are forced into arranged marriages at a very young age.
What did the court rule?
The court said the Bengali word “kumari” must be removed from marriage registration forms.
The word is used to describe unmarried women, but it can also mean “virgin”.
Lawyers for the groups who filed the case in 2014 had successfully argued that the marriage forms were humiliating and breached women’s privacy.
On Sunday, the court said the Bengali word “obibahita”, which unambiguously means “an unmarried woman” – must be used from now on instead of “kumari”.
In a separate ruling, the court required grooms to state whether they are unmarried, divorced or widowed.
The changes are expected to come into force in a few months when the full court verdict is officially published.
What has the reaction been?
“It is a landmark verdict,” Aynun Nahar Siddiqua, a lawyer involved in the case, was quoted as saying.
She said she hoped the ruling would help advance women’s rights in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, a local marriage registrar said he and his colleagues were now waiting for the authorities to officially inform them about the changes in the form.
“I have conducted many marriages in Dhaka and I have often been asked why men have the liberty to not disclose their status but women don’t. I always told them this wasn’t in my hands,” registrar Mohammad Ali Akbar Sarker told Reuters.
“I guess I won’t be asked that question anymore,” he added.