No dress codes for Pakistani women

Published: May 22, 2014
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The freedom of wearing whatever you want, especially in a country where summer lasts for up to eight months a year, is one that is often taken for granted in Pakistan. I did not realise the immense freedom that women have here until I visited a country in the Middle East where a strict dress code is followed by most women. Pakistan is a country where women have options: they can go out covered from head to toe and also in Western outfits. The choice is theirs as no dress code has been imposed on them by the state. In Western countries, Muslim women often try to wear a hijab to maintain their identities, which often becomes a security issue in the wake of increasing xenophobia.

I was studying in Scotland when the London bombings took place on July 5, 2005. A wave of hatred spread against Muslims in the county just as the news broke out that British Muslims were behind the bombings. Women, particularly those wearing hijab, felt insecure as local people were seen to be spitting on some women wearing a scarf and pulling their scarves off their heads. One day, when I was standing at a bus stop to go to university, an old man pointing towards me said, “These are the people; they will burn this bus stop too!” I was speechless.

Whether Muslim women should be allowed to cover themselves from head to toe in public places has become a national issue in some countries. France has labelled the choice as a security issue and banned the wearing of hijab.  At least in our society, women, and even religious minorities, are not hated for what they wear. Many women drive and work alongside men while wearing an abaya and hijab. On this front, Pakistan is probably the only country that gives so much freedom to its women to dress up as they want, especially in the big cities.

I don’t know about other women but at least I feel blessed. I hope our country’s economic and law and order situation improves so that there won’t be any better place for women to live and work like Pakistan. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Weird
    May 22, 2014 - 9:16AM

    Stop lying. The Hijab is not banned in France, the niqab is.

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  • SHery
    May 22, 2014 - 9:17AM

    I heard the Last Sentence ,,,

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  • Nabeel
    May 22, 2014 - 9:21AM

    Well, you’ve observed it perfectly. Exceptions are always there, in evey society. But the freedom observed by Pakistani women, in the presence of a high majority of all those stereotypes is commendable. Yesterday I read that Pakistan Army has two female Generals as well, perhaps the only two in the entire Msulim world.

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  • Mj
    May 22, 2014 - 10:17AM

    “Pakistan is a country where women have options: they can go out covered from head to toe and also in Western outfits.”

    I am not sure what Pakistan the author is living in but a girl wearing a western outfit (most likely jeans, skirts are unlikely) faces more harassment in 99% (1% for the relative liberal posh enclaves) of the country than niqabis ever would in western countries. Although the government does not necessarily push a dress code, to deny that powerful societal pressures prevent women from wearing what they wish is quite deceptive.

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  • Khurram
    May 22, 2014 - 10:23AM

    Good Observation…Its really a blessing in Pakistan for women to wear whatever they want and exercise their rights whenever they want…that’s not the case in many Muslim countries especially in Middle East…Pak is much tolerant and moderate country on this particular issue

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  • Rahul
    May 22, 2014 - 10:29AM

    Maybe you didn’t go to india people can wear anything and everything. Be religious, western,rural or tribal outfit.

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  • James
    May 22, 2014 - 10:56AM

    “At least in our society, women, and even religious minorities, are not hated for what they wear…”

    Yes you are right, they are not hated for what they wear…… they are hated for what they believe…..

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  • Arsha
    May 22, 2014 - 12:48PM

    Well what about freedom to wear skirts, shorts, etc…. Most comfortable choices for summer.

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  • TheMan
    May 22, 2014 - 2:59PM

    @Weird

    Actually the Hijab is banned in France in all public buildings. This includes schools, universities, government buildings, Police stations etc.

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  • Stranger
    May 22, 2014 - 3:24PM

    well I live in France and see truckloads of muslim ( mostly Arab ) girls and women wearing some type of scarf to cover their heads and hair . Is it the hijab ( they use various colours and designs ) or just for fashion. Whatever its called ,its not banned in France for sure ( from what it looks ) .

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  • Sam
    May 22, 2014 - 3:37PM

    very well written, totally agreed with the author.

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  • Yasmeen
    May 22, 2014 - 4:18PM

    Try getting on to a mini van or a public bus wearing colorful Western clothes and you shall feel a whole lot of people groping you There is a sickness in the society called illiteracy and until that is removed ..abaya or no abaya mean nothing ..

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  • May 22, 2014 - 7:46PM

    @Weird: Let us be civil and courteous. It is only a matter of misconception. The writer is not lying but you are using roguish.

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  • May 22, 2014 - 7:49PM

    @Mj Pakistan is a multicultural country. Open up your mind, please. Go to a tourism guide or Wikipedia. Do not be misled by biased media.

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  • ModiFied
    May 22, 2014 - 9:32PM

    By temperament majority of Muslims are liberal and believe in breaking the shackles of tradition. I suppose this is how Islam started and spread world over quickly. Things changed and conservative entered the scene and made the mess of everything. I am still hopeful that things will change and liberal Islam will come up again sooner than later.

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  • a_jen
    May 22, 2014 - 9:41PM

    I agree with many things you said. But I don’t agree to the point where you said that Pakistani women can wear anything western. I have experienced it first hand, every single person causes trouble, even in some posh areas of Islamabad. We need to change the mind set of our people.

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  • May 22, 2014 - 10:06PM

    @Weird:
    the niqab is a form of hijab. And she is right that if one country allows someone to where it (exclude the security apologists excuse) then it does have greater freedom for women to choose.

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  • vaqas
    May 23, 2014 - 12:11AM

    Atleast she started with the strict dress code of middle-eastern countries. Usually when people discuss dresscodes, they usually start and end their argument with the enforcement of a certain dresscode in a certain few european countries. Which is just a flagrant display of hippocrisy by our twisted, uber- religious masses.

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  • Ali S
    May 23, 2014 - 12:30AM

    @Mj:

    Actually, at least as far as Muslim countries are concerned, urban Pakistani women are legally quite fortunate, as in there’s no state-sponsored suppression of women’s right to dress, drive or work. Cultural barriers for women exist in pretty much every third world country.

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  • Mj
    May 23, 2014 - 3:46AM

    @Khalid Rahman:
    “@Mj Pakistan is a multicultural country. Open up your mind, please. Go to a tourism guide or Wikipedia. Do not be misled by biased media.”

    I am a Pakistani who has lived in Pakistan, not some misinformed foreigner.

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  • mshaiq
    May 23, 2014 - 1:33PM

    Lady, you’re delusional if you think this is freedom. The government may not have made hijab compulsory (yet) but Pakistani society, especially outside the posh areas of the main cities, frowns upon women who wear whatever they want.

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  • Rex Minor
    May 24, 2014 - 2:08PM

    @Madam author and Abdullah Haider:
    Non sense and pure non sense. There are no restriction on men or women how they dress themselves. Those who fully clad themselves in public have met re criticismren , men or women, and because of security implications were banned in France. However, it is very difficult to implement, because of the women tourist from Arab countries who invade the Disney land with their children and go on shopping spree in Paris. Also there are French non muslim women who do not wear underclothes and when challenged by the police stand completely naked. Voila, the typical French legislation one of many which remain on paper but cannot be implemented.
    What the Europeans object to is the lack of will and commitment of non tourist to integration, madam,

    Rex Minor

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