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.