Obsession over the way women dress has possessed men and women in Pakistan for as long as time and this has occurred at both ends of the spectrum, be it the conservative population or those who subscribe to a more liberal way of life. Two juxtaposing cases have been brought to light, simultaneously out of sheer coincidence but acutely representing the tussle that has existed here for several decades between the two segments. In one scenario, guards at the Punjab Civil Secretariat refused entry to at least two women who appeared without a dupatta. In contrast, executives at a software firm forced a woman to resign on account of her choice to wear the hijab, or headscarf. Nuances aside, the debate over women’s attire ascertains that society needs to concern itself less with decreeing women how to dress.
What women choose to wear, or not to wear, is a decision for them to take, not community elders, parents, siblings, significant others, or in-laws. Modesty in dress in relation to cultural and other norms is a personal matter and should be reflective of a person’s interpretation and perception of their own of such norms. Freedom of expression should be valued; honouring individuality in society can augment progress and innovation. After all, several pioneering entrepreneurs had to think independently at some point in order to bring their monumental ideas to fruition.
Fortuitously, times are changing. The guards who propagated the claim are being held accountable. The unethical habit of ‘tossing names’ to get one’s way has no place in an egalitarian society. It is laudable that the ruling party termed the guards’ orders “absurd” and the PTI publicly labelled this discrimination. Conversely, the CEO who asked a woman to resign because of her hijab has, fittingly in turn, been asked to leave. Employees at other workplaces should feel encouraged over this.