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Posts Tagged Women and Dress

The Other Side of Pakistan is Modern and Moderate By Farhana Qazi

The Other Side of Pakistan is Modern and Moderate

Pakistan is misunderstood. It’s been called the ally from hell, a hard country,  and one of the worst places to be a woman. I’ve spent my entire life traveling back and forth to Pakistan, the country of my birth. To talk to people. To meet relatives. Most of all, I go to Pakistan to look beyond the headlines that defines Pakistan as a country ruled by the Taliban, thugs, and terrible politicians. Some of this is true. Most of it is not true.

There’s another side of Pakistan that is rarely covered by the mainstream news media in the West.

The other side of Pakistan is modern, moderate, and magical.

In spring 2014, I spent  months traveling through Pakistan, from the northern snow-clad mountains to the urban metro-cities. I found women who were dancing divas, decorated brides, and distinguished politicians. These women defy the Western branding that women are oppressed and obsolete. The opposite is true: the women I met are visible and vivacious. They counter the stereotype that Muslim women are second-class citizens.

Divas, dancers, and decorated brides

Divas, dancers, and decorated brides

Diversity & the Dress Code 

Screenshot 2015-02-18 21.13.53

As a former instructor for the U.S. military, I often used this slide to consider who is not a Muslim woman. I had a simple teaching point: Muslim women can be secular, spiritual, tribal, traditional, modern, and choose to cover or not cover with a hijab.

It comes as no surprise that many people mistakenly judge Muslim women by their attire. Her dress or what she wears is often a cultural identifiable marker and in some cases, her dress can determined her religiosity or lack thereof. For example, most women I know draped in a niqaab, an ankle-length dress that shields a woman’s body and her face, are ultra-conservative; some are tribal. Many of these women believe that covering their face is required in Islam and the greatest form of purity and modesty. Other women oppose the niqaab and the face veil altogether, arguing this so-called modest dress is reflected of cultural practice, not religious doctrine. Whatever the niqaab means, the reality is that there is no agreement among Muslim women on the rules of modesty.

A woman’s dress code should be a personal choice.

Returning to the earlier question, there are three women who are not Muslim: top center (the woman in a blue turban is Sikh); and the two images on the bottom left (the woman with the red dot or bindi on her forehead is a Hindu; the woman next to her in a white turban is Sikh).

Redefining Women’s Roles Within Society

For centuries, women in Islam have been redefining their roles and responsibilities. The same is true in Pakistan, a country on the edge of modernity. Nine months ago, I traveled through the country, meeting with women who are determined, destined, and dedicated to forging a new identity.

Women are finding new ways to empower themselves.

For some, empowerment equals a good education and/or equal opportunities in the workplace. In a patriarchal, patrilineal country like Pakistan, this hasn’t been easy. An interview with one of Pakistan’s female parliamentarian leader in the northern town of Mansehra told me, “We can get ahead if we work beside men, not against them.”

Screenshot 2015-02-18 21.17.15 I remember the late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister at the age of 35, who set a new standard for women. I met her in Washington, D.C., before she returned to Pakistan after eleven years in exile.

Bhutto was banned from Pakistan during her second term in office on allegations of corruption. Her husband, Zardari, was thrown in jail and Bhutto fled the country for Dubai with her three children.

Bhutto’s return to Pakistan to participate in elections set for winter 2007 was an emotional stepping stone.

Tragically, the barbaric Pakistani Taliban shot Benazir in the back of her head during a political rally, killing her instantly on December 27, 2007. Like many Pakistanis, I can never forget that day. I appeared on CNN with other supporters. Everyone I knew grieved her death.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 18.42.44

 

Before Bhutto, a sophisticated, slender woman named Fatimah Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan’s founder, graced the new nation with her presence. She is featured prominently on billboards and in paintings and photographs, standing tall next to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s British-educated and secular leader. Coined the “Mother of the Nation,” Fatimah helped women like my women take part in political activism and join the Pakistan Army, albeit briefly. In the city of Aligarh, India (before the birth of Pakistan), Jinnah said:

No nation can rise to the height of glory without its women.

Before the birth of Pakistan, Fatimah Jinnah closed her dental practice to live with her brother after his wife’s death. She went with her brother on the political campaign trail and helped him raise his only daughter. Years before Benazir Bhutto would enter the political limelight, Fatimah became a role model for women. Fatimah made it possible for hundreds of Pakistani women to participate in general elections and protest in the civil disobedience movement of the late 1940s. When Jinnah died, Fatimah continued her political activism and stood against Pakistan’s military dictator, Ayub Khan, in an unfair contest. Had the election been fair, she would have won.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 18.06.28Pakistan Today: Complex and Controversial

The country of my birth is changing and rapidly. In the metropolitan cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, sprawling communities of elitist, educated, and empowered women are reshaping the country. Because they have access to money, power and status, these women can afford to be bold and brazen in their actions and activities.

Some are super models, fashion designers (including my own rising star cousin, Faiza Amjad with her brand, Meenakar), TV stars, savvy business women, stylish politicians (think Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S.), twinkle-eyed talk show hosts, and singers.

Some appear in public cloaked in subtle colors; others prefer flirty crayon colored dresses and megaheels. No matter what their style, these women are classic beauties.

With their fashion and accessories, these women want to be visible. They demand attention. In her timeless charm, Bushra Gohar–the first female Vice President of a Pashtun (mostly male) political party called the Swami National Party–appears in public as convincing and confident.

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When I met Gohar in New York, at a conference on Pakistan, we talked about her struggles as woman growing up in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

I had to work hard to get to where I am today. I chose not to marry and devote my life to improving the lives of other women in the tribal belt, she said.

Of all the women from Pakistan, I admire my mother the most. In the 1960s, Mama joined a political party founded by Benazir’s father, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a man my mother nearly worshipped. Mama rallied behind his party’s axiom Roti, Kapra aur Makanor bread, clothing and housing.

Bhutto gained enormous public support for his party by appealing to the poor and agrarian masses of Pakistan. After a decade of failed military rule, Pakistanis welcomed the new face. Mama said:

After the 1965 war ended, I joined the party and became a PPP loyalist. My other mother didn’t like it but she couldn’t stop me.

Working for the party gave Mama freedom of mobility. She didn’t need her eldest brother to accompany her because the family supported the PPP. She didn’t need a bodyguard to look after her honor or ensure her safety. During the election year of 1971, Mama acted independently.

I enjoyed that time. I was part of something larger than myself, she said.

Mama was well prepared for political activism.  She had mastered public speaking by taking part in debate competitions. Once, when Mama was about twenty years old, she defeated my uncle, Tariq Mahmood, who later became Pakistan’s Minister of Interior and then Secretary of Communications, and has since retired from the Foreign Service. Mama also loved to perform. She danced to classic Indian songs. She played basketball, volleyball and enjoyed gymnastics. Mama laughed aloud when she remembered jumping through a ball of fire—a common theatrical stunt at her college.

Nargis Perveen, my mother

Nargis Perveen, my mother

Mama went door-to-door with her one-line slogan. Let the women vote! On the front page of a national newspaper, Mama raised her fist, her brown hair tied back in a braid. “I wanted women to vote for Bhutto because I believed he could change Pakistan. But first, women had to come out of their homes.” Mama knew men had power over women.

Everything in Pakistan begins with men. They control the country. A woman survives only because of men.

And therein lies the dark truth.

Despite what women have achieved in Pakistan, the country remains patriarchal and patrilineal.

Read More: http://farhanaqazi.com/

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