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Erasing girl students

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ON Monday, the KP government announced a ban on any male parliamentarian or officer entering, or being invited as chief guest to attend any event in, government schools for girls. The circular, issued by the KP education department, also ordered a blackout of coverage, whether on social or mainstream media, of any such functions. Public opinion on this move has been split, with those arguing that it will encourage more conservative parents to ‘allow’ their daughters to access education (virtually half of all girls in KP do not attend school, according to a recent Alif Ailaan report) without fear of their ‘honour’ being compromised. Indeed, there has been speculation that the order was issued following complaints that photographs of such functions were being uploaded on social media, without the participants’ consent and in an affront to cultural mores. Many others, on the other hand, argue that such an ill-conceived measure will only serve to further marginalise girls and women in the province — reinforcing rigid gender segregation, depriving them of recognition and denying them a role in shaping public life.

Women in KP and across Pakistan have long been systemically disenfranchised under the guise of ‘cultural sensitivities’, despite the fact that such feelings are, day by day, colliding with the aspirations of a younger generation that is often more attuned to issues of injustice and less invested in the preservation of an inequitable social order. A government that seeks to command any kind of moral authority among its people should be able to lead, not simply follow. And it should be able to assign responsibility for transgressions against the privacy and personhood of women and girls squarely where it belongs — with the violators, not the victims. Women can engage in public life and be treated with dignity and respect — the two are not mutually exclusive. Customs that threaten to deny one half of the population their constitutional right to education should not be pandered to. This ban must be overturned, immediately.

Courtesy: Dawn, October 31st, 2018

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