Jeans are banned for female students in Pakistan: A Response

The BBC recently published a video that revealed how certain universities in Pakistan have banned female students from wearing jeans along with other types of clothing. The video proceeds to ask several women on the streets of Islamabad what they think about these regulations being enforced in universities throughout Pakistan. 

I’d firstly like to address the fact that actually, it wasn't just female students who were having their dress code surveyed, but male students too. For example, the national university of science and technology asks that male students wear ties and dress pants, while the female students wear shalwar kameez. The university tries to justify this by saying it is preparing students for work life conditions. 

When we look at the restrictions on attire for women at the National Textile University, we clearly see that dressing smartly isn’t the top priority for how the students should look, but instead seems to damn anything that may seem slightly too sexy, western or revealing. These include wearing a t-shirt, exercise clothes, stylish sunglasses and shorts. When listening to the thoughts that women had in response to these measures, I expected them to show distaste for such a controlling regime, especially since these women are just trying to get a university degree. However, this was not the case. Most stated that jeans are not in their culture, and that dress code depends on the society that you are in. 

Some may consider this point to be damaging for women’s freedom, since it seems as though culture should be the predominant determinator for what a woman chooses to wear on a day to day basis. However, we may run the risk of imposing our own Western views of what is right and wrong on other cultures and societies. Of course, I feel extremely lucky that my University does not tell me what I should and shouldn’t wear, however I don’t think that measuring gender equality should be based on how many women wear jeans vs. how many wear religious or ‘modest’ clothing. This is why it is understandable that the female students of Pakistan don’t feel as though they should be pressured to follow the fashion trends of the West. 

Having said this, it did seem concerning how in general there was an acceptance that institutions such as universities were allowed to have rules such as dressing restrictions that targeted sexuality. I would like to add here that I don’t believe dress attire should automatically be a statement for what the wearer’s sexual intentions are, but sadly a lot of people seem to think in this way. Some universities took it further and enforced a rule that students could be fined if they were seen walking with or sitting next to someone of the opposite sex.

While we may find this ludicrous, it doesn't take much for us to look back at our own experiences in educational institutions where the matter of female sexuality is considered an issue for authorities. For example, I’ve experienced two different secondary schools from the ages of 11 to 18, and both were extremely strict on the attire of the female students. I remember in the first school, teachers would stand at the entrances with makeup wipes, forcefully handing them to any students who came into the school wearing ‘too much’ makeup. I’m sure every girl remembers the persistent nag of teachers to roll down skirts, and my school went so far as to re-model the uniform skirt so that it was more difficult to roll up. We were never allowed to dye our hair in a way that would make it look unnatural, and don’t even get me started on the nail varnish situation. I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth we were being inspected every morning at form time for having too much makeup on or short skirts, considering I went to an all girls school. I vividly remember my form tutor answering this question by saying that it was because we had male teachers. 

I understand that the Pakistani students are all adults, so should have full freedom for what they wear. Yet, I feel highly hypocritical for judging these university institutions when secondary schools in the UK also have ridiculous rules for how female students should dress. Fear of female sexuality and the sexuality of women being controlled has been prevalent for thousands of years and has spanned many different cultures all over the world. The way women dress has also been consistently linked with their sexuality - which is an issue that could be explored within itself. With the rise of the media focusing on Islam and their supposed repressive values towards women, Westerners may be forgetting to look at their own culture before pointing a finger at others. The news at the moment can already show how Western industries such as Hollywood are not a perfect model of the fair treatment of women. Furthermore, if we start to mistakenly accuse a religion for the majority of injustices and unequal treatment of women in the world, we will be further from solving the issues and the causes of hyper-sexualisation of females.