A news had been circulated during the first week of September, some of us might have taken notice of the news while going through our news feeds while others may have scrolled down, as usual, to find other buzzing things around.
KP govt makes it mandatory for schoolgirls across the province to ‘cover up’.
The thing which hit me in this sentence was ‘Schoolgirls’. One might be surprised: why? Yes, being a girl, myself, I can raise so many questions on this statement. Let’s have a quick look at the questions which you think I or any desi ‘liberal feminist’, sitting somewhere in a coach, drinking a cup of coffee in an air-conditioned room, enjoying a liberal life and might be working on a case of Rashida or Parveen (husband of Rashida slapped her and kicked her off, while husband of Parveen is a drug addict, so she thinks she must help the victims without knowing who’s actually the victim) might have asked. Approaching the main debate, this is what you can find on social media when it comes to such cases and within seconds all news feeds are filled with such questions and statements;
⦁ Really girls… why girls? Men need to have pardah too #SHAMEONKPGOV
⦁ IS THIS YOUR NAYA PAKISTAN? #justiceforkpgirls
⦁ Are we living in 21st century? Why don’t we get that there’s nothing wrong with not having bodies covered up… it’s about mentality guys… (Believe me I come across 90 percent of such comments on my news feed)
⦁ It’s not what we wear boys, in point of fact it’s in your head (Here maybe you criticize me, but yes I would say that sometimes it is about what we wear… point to ponder. that’s my point of view one may disagree with me on this)
Okay so what do you expect to hear from me? Let’s end up this curiosity.
I appreciate the decision of KP government to take this stance, many of us called it a conservative approach but we need to understand the society too that what’s the second side of the picture. Not all societies are liberal and open, tribal areas have rigid norms and culture and for them even their culture and traditions are more important than religion, they lived up to those norms and customs which have been set by their forefathers. They want their daughters to do so and it was a decision which had tribal consent involved. The decision was directed by the KP government probably during the first week of September. The order was circulated by the district Education Minister in Haripur where all the school principals were advised to ensure that these orders are being observed in their relevant schools. Advisor to the Chief Minister for Education, Ziaullah Bangash, explained the reason as something which is being demanded by the tribals of nearby areas that impelled us to permit this notification. One can clearly find the reason behind this decision before criticizing the government. One factor is that this was a demand of the tribals, second important factor which can’t be overlooked is that KP Society is a not a liberal society. With a good literacy rate of 50 percent according to recent study, only 28 girls make it to secondary schools out of every 100 girls who’re enrolled in primary schools. It’s quite alarming that KPK has the second highest number of defunct schools in Pakistan, where 1663 schools are not functioning.
First of all, Education Minister of KPK needs to take notice of these defunct schools and make an effective policy to come out of this situation. You might be surprised to know that district Swat of KPK takes the lead in acquiring highest literacy rate of about 80 percent in KPK. Positive steps are always appreciable no matter, whether they are taken on a large scale or on a small one. This positive side of Swat district shows that sound policies are being made and provisions are being taken by the government of KPK to improve the education standards in the province but this should not be limited to one district rather it should be extended to all 34 districts of KPK with equal educational opportunities for boys, as well as, girls while taking into account case of defunct schools.
Coming to the main debate, the notification which was extended by the KP government to impose cover heads decision for school girls as stated by the advisor to the chief minister on education that it was something demanded by the tribals which compelled them to pass these orders. We cannot criticize KP gov here because parents are (in most cases) doubtful of and worried to send their daughters to schools as KP has some sensitive areas that’s why parents are worried about their children’s safety. Here, I will take your attention to one of the cases at the KMC (Khyber Medical College), Peshawar where a desi liberal professor thrashed a veiled female student over a debate on wearing Hijab however, later KP government took notice of it and the professor was suspended. One more factor behind worriedness of parents of tribal areas is that in rural areas of KP most of the schools are located near farming lands and children have to pass those fields to reach their schools, they aren’t as such anxious about boys but for girls they’re more concerned because there have been cases of alleged rape and murder of young girls near the fields. Ziaullah Bangash justified the notification with the reason that this decision is in line with the tribal values as well as in the best interest of our people and culture also. But here I want to raise a question. Is culture more important than improving the security situation of the sensitive areas of KP? Why don’t the authorities take notice and punish of rape and murder cases and if they’re doing so then why still are the parents of rural areas out there worried. Culture is followed by the people and people includes men, women, children hence everyone who’s living… If there’s security risk in some areas of the province, God forbids security situation deteriorates and lives are lost then who’ll observe and follow the culture? CM of KPK should take into account the security situation of these sensitive areas so that parents can send their daughters to schools without any fear.
Let’s talk about the girls of schools in KP who already wear chaddar or dupatta on their heads (even some of them wear Burqa/Abaya too) which is the tradition, part of their culture to cover their heads followed by majority of women in KP. Here I do not criticize the decision made by KP government earlier because if society is ready to accept it as this was demand of the tribals then we are no one to criticize but the consent of each and every segment of society (both men and women) is mandatory, women do have rights to choose what’s good or bad for them. If a demand (input)is raised up in public then it’s the responsibility of a government to fulfill the demand and take a decision (output) while keeping in mind all the pros and cons. But in this case first concern should have been the reason behind the demand. Education Minister KP should have taken notice of why this demand is coming from the tribals? And he should have worked on this WHY? And this why has already being explained as the security concerns of the parents and culture. This decision to make Abaya/burqa mandatory for school girls gave a negative impact on our education trends as it marginalized the opposite gender. It could have also let down the confidence of young girls out there (in case it would not have withdrawn) that why they are being asked to do so. They might think something’s wrong with them. Because our teachers are not being advised to do so and only we (students) are imposed to wear it. A government should never direct policies which can result in tapping down confidence of one segment of society.
Finally, if we say that by taking such decisions, we can save our girls from any kind of unethical incident or harassment then we are absolutely mistaken as this’s just a lay man statement. Can someone assure that if a girl/woman wears an abaya/burqa then those street wanderers (stray dogs I would say instead, maybe I’m getting harsh but this’s reality) will not harass her or will lower down their eyes whenever they’ll see a girl with burqa/abaya. I respect the decision of the those tribals who wanted their girls to cover them with burqa/abaya, but I stand up to those sentiments of a girl out there who might be thinking this is because she’s somewhere wrong. If a girl observes pardah or not this is her choice and she has the right to choose but imposing pardah on her isn’t her choice. Parents need to school their sons also to show respect to opposite gender. It is not like always women must follow norms and traditions and stick by their culture just because this is the only way women of respectful families can guard themselves from male gaze. This belief takes us to what we call a Patriarchal Society! where men are the owners and women are the subjects and power legitimize in the hands of men who consider themselves as the guards of their women. This is the time we must raise our voices against such concepts in media which portrays men as predators and women as victims!! This certainly needs to be stop now!
I would suggest that the state authorities need to ensure parents concern about security of their children specially girls and take action against harassers rather than policing about covering women’s bodies and authorities need to invest their resources in prioritizing their priorities about the relevant matter.
To finish, when the decision faced a backlash by the masses, the decision was however taken back and CM KPK himself took notice of it (well appreciated step) when a tweet was circulated on social media by the KP government stating that,
‘Citizens are free to choose what is good for them’.
A fair statement indeed. This is again a failure of authorities that those notifications/ policies should never be directed and officially declared on record which can create unrest in masses as they may hurt sentiments of minorities. This is policy failure on the sides of authorities they should have properly checked with the pros and cons of this decision by consulting with the provincial authorities and then would have come out with a final call. Hope it was a lesson for us and from now onwards we will try to learn from our mistakes.