Last week, the administration of the National University of Science and Technology, decided that it was time to impose a dress code on the errant girls studying at their institution. Jeans and tights, it was collectively deemed, were not appropriate attire for their female students. Girls without dupattas were also condemned. Newspaper reports revealed that amounts of 500-1000 rupees had been taken from the girls who had dared to violate such essential modes of propriety. Anonymous faculty members elaborated that the former military officials that administer the University did not like girls in jeans, girls in tights, girls without dupattas. They did not like girls with choices.
The offended officials at NUST were not the only ones to decide that girls do not have the right to dress themselves. Earlier this month, students at Khyber Medical College protested against a University directive that now requires them to wear a uniform which includes a lab coat and a mandatory dupatta or an abaya headscarf. The dress code, proponents insisted, had been imposed so that class differences among the students may not be that obvious. Class differences apparent in the attire of male students were evidently not a problem.
The noble efforts of all of these earnest University officials to keep girls modest and their institutions devoid of the irresistible temptations of tights and jeans are unlikely to shock anyone in Pakistan. Against the child rapes, the killings for honour, the harassment in public spaces and myriad other forms of denigration suffered by women on a daily basis; the imposition of a uniform is but a slight slap in a slew of regular beatings. In a country of burgeoning burkas; women have become used to being reduced to the sum total of their clothing choices. Women swathed and scaffolded in black and peering from slits are good and moral; women wearing jeans undoubtedly impure. Feminine morality in Pakistan is a product of fabric; the more equals, the better.
It would all be old news, if the venue of this latest form of female control was not an institution of higher learning. The fact that the fines and fees are being imposed on girls studying science, technology and medicine has particular and potent relevance. Like the slow drops dripped on a torture victim’s head, this new rule is but the latest to fall on the foreheads of girls who seek to prove their intellectual excellence.
To these girls pursuing a life of the mind, the dress code spells a particular message: you may dominate in the classroom but you will always be a subordinate beyond it. If any girls harbor fantasies of equality founded on their better test scores, their superior study skills, their inventive ideas; it serves to remind them, that their hard won battles mean nothing in the larger and exclusively male controlled scheme of things. They may be scientists, doctors, engineers but they are ultimately, only women, undeserving even of the choice of deciding what to wear.
For some, it may be the final drop, the one that renders them insane.