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September 16, 2019

Covering up


September 16, 2019

Schoolgirls in Haripur, it is assumed regardless of age, have been told by the district education office that they must wear an abaya, gown or chaddar. The strange order issued by Samina Altaf, the district education officer, has reportedly asked all heads of schools to ensure this under the guise of protecting girls from any unfortunate episode. A growing number of cases of harassment have been cited by the education office as the reason for this order while it has been noted that many girls had taken up the option of wearing a dupatta or half chaddar. This, it is deemed, was insufficient to cover their bodies. The order simply plays in to the misconception that clothing determines how women are treated in society. Quite obviously, if a girl is harassed, molested or raped, the culprits should be punished – instead of the girls being turned into prisoners of their own clothing. The order sets a dangerous example and we can only hope the other education offices do not choose to follow, draping little girls in thick veils that have no place in education and, according to the few studies conducted, play no part in protecting women from harassment.

At around the same time, in an even more bizarre decision, Bahria University has issued orders that male and female students must sit separately in classrooms, must not be given projects which require them to work together and movement between buildings should be restricted. This is presumably to prevent interaction between men and women, who may stop to say hello as they pass down a corridor. Breaks have been decreased and academic work stepped up. The decision has met with fierce criticism from at least some female students at Bahria University on Twitter and other forums. For now the order, however, stays in place. Earlier this month, the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore had decided to set up separate seating arrangements for male and female students in the cafeteria. However, after protests, the university had withdrawn the notification.

This is hardly the way to keep women safe in our society, to empower them or to give them equal status. Only empowerment and greater opportunity for the sexes to work and socialise together will allow any kind of normalcy in a society where a woman is raped every two hours. The empowerment of girls, by allowing them free choice in how they dress, perhaps within outlined dress codes at school level is one way to empower them and increase their status in society so that the problem of molestation and harassment can be prevented.

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