Mon December 11, 2017
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

Opinion

Kamila Hyat
December 7, 2017

Share

Advertisement

Looking beyond the cosmetic

Looking beyond the cosmetic

Amid the political turmoil that we have been victim to over the past few months, little attention paid to the results of the 2017 census. One of these results is the distorted proportion in the number of men and women in the country, which has made Pakistan one of those unusual countries where there are a larger number of men than women.
This is despite the fact that women generally outlive men at the global level and more females are born than males – provided they are not subjected to infanticide, feticide or death through negligence in their early childhood. The male-to-female birth ratio for Pakistan stands at 1.09, making for an overall percentile difference of well over one percent. In terms of numbers, this amounts to millions.
This, of course, is not the only figure that demonstrates the lack of equal opportunities for women. Pakistan ranks alongside Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen as one of the four countries in the world where women often get a raw deal. According to a research conducted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Pakistani women on average receive only five years of school education and their financial inclusion stands at only three percent. Less than 25 percent of women are able to access employment while 75 percent of them suffer discrimination in some form or the other – some of which has been sanctioned by the law – and 27 percent of women suffer severe abuse at the hands of their partners. A massive 73 percent of Pakistani men are uncomfortable with the idea of women in their families working.
We must take these figures into account and examine what our priorities should be. Surely, we need to draw more women into the mainstream of economic activity to enable our country to utilise its human resources effectively, empower women and grant them equal rights that the constitution upholds for all citizens, irrespective of gender. Instead, we have witnessed a curious diversion in interest. In Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and, quite possibly, in other cities of the country, heavily-advertised finishing schools function to impart useful training to girls and women on proper etiquettes. These include crash courses in how to walk in high heels, groom themselves, cook, stand elegantly and with poise and present themselves with dignity in public places.
In a somewhat bizarre twist, a number of these institutions have been operating since the 1970s by the Pakistan Air Force – an elite outfit which ought to be primarily concerned with aircrafts and defence. To its credit, the PAF has taken the lead amongst the world’s nations in training women as fighter pilots, aeronautical engineers and other roles that are usually reserved for men – even in the more developed countries.
The fact, however, still remains that these ‘finishing schools’ – which also function within the private sector – appear to draw a considerable following. The fee structure for these learning centres is quite high and they seem to be attempting to prepare young women to enter a life where they will primarily be fulfilling the role of looking good – presumably for their husbands or for the marriage market – and equipping themselves fully to run households and assume ‘good taste’. In some cases, this is achieved by making field trips to well-run homes, which are furnished in accordance with the values that the school wishes to impart.
Lately, an attempt appears to have been made to cash in on the global mania that has already begun as Prince Harry prepares to wed American actress Meghan Markle, with many already making predictions on what the ceremony will entail. A finishing school in Lahore has promised a ‘princess course’ for young women interested in achieving higher levels of etiquette, manners and presentation. We are uncertain about what precisely this will entail.
Falling in line with this are the beauty salons that cater to children – primarily young girls who are over six – in addition to woman. There are beauty treatments of every kind on offer, ranging from the innocuous haircut to facials, hair perms, skin treatments and other offers that focus entirely on physical appearance. A service that leads the field in beauty treatments that are available in Lahore even caters to, what is believed to be, a growing trend among mothers to hold ‘beauty birthday parties’ for girls as young as six or seven whose friends are primped, beautified and cast into their typical female role. We have witnessed a similar form of behaviour everywhere, including at dress-up days at schools where girls are inevitably clad in princess costumes selected from Disney movies. At various beauty salons, girls are often seen occupying themselves with Barbie doll kits while undergoing the rather time-consuming beauty treatments for their skin and faces.
The obsession is troubling. It even trickles down to those who cannot afford fancy beauty parlours and elaborate birthday parties planned by a hoarde of beauticians for their pre-teen daughters. Nearly all echelons of society, we see concerted efforts being made to focus on beauty. Girls are now seen wearing lipstick, rouge and, quite often, eye shadow or kajal. They are decked out in shimmering outfits and wear high heels that leave them virtually unable to walk. Perhaps, this deliberate hobbling is the very purpose of the outfit – somewhat akin to foot-binding that prevailed in China some decades ago. After all, girls who are boisterous, climb trees and run or kick a ball don’t fit into the social norms that we have created.
All this becomes all the more troubling when we consider the archetype of girls and young women that we need in society. We need confident, well-educated women who are able to take up their role in the economic sphere and add to economic activity in the country. While there is no harm in being a good hostess or learning to lift a cup of tea with the pinky finger stretched out, it seems somewhat irrelevant as compared to the real needs of a country that lacks trained professionals in many spheres and where women need to step past the point where they are considered primarily decorative items to a position in which they can play a useful role in a society which needs all the help it can get.
The failure of so many women trained as doctors to practice – even on a part-time basis – is part of the same phenomenon. They become trophy wives. The drain on resources is enormous. Of course, very few can afford to attend elaborate finishing schools. But it is the mindset that disturbs people. From their early childhood, girls are now willing to sit for hours at a beauty parlour to have their hair elaborately coiffed and their faces whitened as they are advised to keep away from outdoor activities to avoid becoming darker-skinned – a feature associated both with being of a lower class and of lesser beauty. As a result, the social conditioning of women becomes palpable.
This is also closely tied with the conditioning of men. Yes, finishing schools exist in other places. However, in our particular context – where the essential rights of women are seldom protected and where they lead lives of such acute disempowerment – they add to the problem instead of solving it. We need confident women. But this confidence must come from their ability to use their minds well rather than from donning the correct dress for the occasion or acquiring skills that essentially serve little or no purpose beyond cosmetic terms.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
Email: [email protected]

Advertisement

Comments

Advertisement

Topstory

Opinion

Newspost

Editorial

National

World

Sports

Business

Karachi

Lahore

Islamabad

Peshawar

Advertisement