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Clothes make the man — and woman — at Pakistani university

Strict dress code for students stirs up debate over personal freedom

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Clothes make the man — and woman — at Pakistani university

Hazara University Dhodial in Mansehra of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (Photo supplied)

The new dress code at a university in northern Pakistan has drawn a mixed reaction from Catholic educationists.

Hazara University Dhodial in Mansehra in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province issued a notification on Jan. 9 that bans T-shirts, short shirts, heavy make-up, jewellery, sleeveless shalwar kameez (traditional tunics with pleated trousers) and heavy handbags for females while on the campus.

The dress code also imposes restrictions on “cut-off jeans, skin-fitted jeans, long hair, ponytails and unpresentable beard cuts” for male students.  

The notification has generated a social media debate. One Twitter user compared the university to an Islamic madrasa, while a Facebook user urged the university to develop laboratories and research centers instead of worrying about personal style.

Catholic professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, opposed the dress code.

“Universities should promote diversity as the students belong to different sects and thoughts. This is a strict violation of human rights and the laws of Pakistan. Such moral policing only harms the country where vulnerable groups face religious intolerance and discrimination every day. Society always dominates religion,” he told UCA News on Jan. 11.

Article 28 of Pakistan’s constitution guarantees the right to preserve and promote a distinct language, script or culture.

Sabir Michael, an assistant professor in the department of social work at the University of Karachi, defended the dress code for university students.

“We reject restrictions but agree with limitations. Make-up should be allowed for parties only. Sadly, women face pressure from the community in several regions,” he said.

The university’s dress code represents a growing trend in Pakistan of restricting personal freedom in the name of culture.

Last year trade union Pasban-e-Doaba in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province apologized for announcing a punishment for shopkeepers dealing with women shopping unaccompanied.

In 2018, Bahria University in Karachi issued a notification directing male and female students to maintain a six-inch distance between them.

In 2015, a jirga (local tribal meeting) before an election in Lower Dir district, a stronghold of the hardline Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, stopped women from voting.

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