Unaccompanied women expelled from markets in Hangu, K-P

Resisting shopkeepers to be driven out, stores to be sealed and fined up to Rs 50,000 for non-compliance

Ehtesham Khan August 21, 2020

In a bid to further restrict women’s access to public places, local elders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district attempted to debarr women from shopping in the area’s bazaars.

As per a decision jointly taken by local Malkan, Mishran, and the Pasban organisation, female shoppers without an accompanying mehrum were not to be granted entry into Doaba and Hangu markets. A notification received by district shopkeepers in the regard also warned that traders found violating orders will be heavily fined and have their shops sealed for a week. In addition to that, it also asserted that the curtain system made in bazaars and markets should be abolished and going further, no curtains for women should be installed in any of the district’s shops. “In the case that a storekeeper does not agree to the decision of the local elders, he will be forced to leave the area for violation of policy,” mandated the notification.

Earlier this year, a similar ban on female shoppers was also imposed in province’s Karak district by local right-wingers during the month of month of Ramazan. According a justification issued by Karak’s reactionary organisations, the restrictions had been imposed to prevent “unveiled women from entering markets and spreading obscenity in the area.” Before that, in the year 2018, the province’s educational institutes were also barred from inviting male chief-guests of any caliber to sporting events, much in the same vein.

However, unlike previous restrictions, the latest strait-laced notification issued by Hangu elders has been the subject of people’s criticism and drawn severe social media backlash, which has resulted in withdrawal of the initial notice by issuing authorities. Speaking to The Express Tribune Hangu District Zakat Committee Chairperson and head of elders’ organisation responsible for the ban Sardar Ali Bangash, said the notice was issued in response to a spike in immoral activities in the area. “We had no intentions of offending anyone. Seeing the social media outcry on the issue, we have withdrawn the initial notice and also submitted a written apology to DPO Hangu. However, our reservations about the curtain system are still intact. We have urged Hangu Deputy Commissioner that curtains installed in the shops should be removed immediately and action should be taken against the shopkeepers who don’t comply,” said Bangash.

On the other hand, as per a resolution submitted by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Members of the Provincial Assembly Dr Samira Shams and Ayesha Bano in regard to the ban on women’s shopping, no such hidebound policies will be entertained K-P. “Whether a woman is married or unmarried, whether she leaves home alone or with a mahram, it is up to her family to decide. The government should take notice of the transgressions of local organisations in legal affairs and take strong action against it. No one has the right to ban women’s shopping,”

Commenting on the situation, Hangu District Police Officer (DPO) Shahid Khan said that the police should be informed if there’s any information on immoral activities taking place in the region. “It is the responsibility of the state to deal with such matters. No organization or group will be allowed to impose any kind of ban at its own will,” Khan told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2020.


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