ISLAMABAD—France’s ban of the burqa and niqab in April, which set cultural tensions simmering across Europe, strikes issues close to home for Pakistani women; many are forced to veil themselves, and many are increasingly choosing to veil themselves.
Just like the land itself, which has extremes of both barren desert and lush mountains, Pakistani women dress in fashionable western attire and burqas, with family, local culture, climate, and education influencing the type of covering a woman chooses.
Although a majority of the country is Islamic, Pakistani law does not require orthodox dress and women’s clothing reflects a gamut of views. In major cities such as Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, as well as in some towns, most women wear dupattas, large scarves loosely draped over the head and chest. A lesser number of urban women wear burqas, and others wear form fitting western clothes, including jeans and T-shirts, on the streets.
Lalafat Aziz, a student in Islamabad who switched from wearing a burqa to a hijab because she was having difficulty breathing, said she thinks French Muslim women should have been consulted before the ban was put in place.
“The banning of the burqa and niqab in France should be looked at from the perspective of the women who live there and follow that tradition. The government should talk to those women before banning it,” she said.
Aziz added that she covers herself because she feels more comfortable veiled in public.
Saleha Tabassum a student that wears a dupatta, was in favor of the ban even though she said it impinges on people’s freedom of belief. “The French government is correct to protect its country’s traditions and culture, even though for individuals, the ban takes people’s beliefs away,” she said.
Tabassum said she was forced to wear a burqa while living in Saudi Arabia and said she thinks security is a good reason to ban the burqa. “I feel France is correct for banning the burqa and protecting its people from a threat that may be real,” she said.
Most Pakistanis agree that burqas pose security risks because of the face covering. In December a female suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew herself up in a crowd of people near a food distribution center close to the Afghan border. In April last year over 40 people were killed when two men in burqas blew themselves up in a refugee camp near the border.
Another student, Faiza Iqbal, summed up the complicated situation, “Any country has a right to protect its national interests but women also have the right to choose how they live their lives,” she said.
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