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Relax, Malala's jeans aren't an assault on your national identity

Relax, Malala's jeans aren't an assault on your national identity

Pakistanis use women as easy targets to vent cultural anxiety, be it Mahira Khan smoking or Malala wearing jeans
Updated 23 Oct, 2017

A new photo of Malala Yousafzai recently surfaced on the internet, in which the 20-year-old education rights activist can be seen wearing jeans and heeled boots. This caused a furor among many Pakistanis, and resulted in personal attacks and criticism online.

This is not the first time Malala, who recently started studying at Oxford University, has been at the receiving end of criticism from people in her home country for supposedly defying cultural norms.

The fact that she is now being lambasted for wearing a Western dress and being unaccompanied by her father should come as no surprise.

Read next: Jeans, tights and social control

Muslim women in Pakistan are perceived by many to be the guardians of culture and honour, without actually being given a choice in the matter.

Their bodies are continuously associated with controversy and shame, as a result of which successful women like Malala are made to carry the weight of the reputation of not only religious values, but also of Pakistan, on their shoulders.

The concept of culture in Pakistan is continuously conflated with a monolithic perception of religion and nation, and a Pakistani woman’s free will to decide what to wear is often demeaned as a result.

The obsession of many Pakistanis to police women and the way they dress stems from their perception of women’s bodies as ‘private’. This is why violence against women is seen as a matter worth concealing in Pakistan.

Women themselves are not even supposed to leave the confines of their home. Overreaching these bounds can always lead to harmful, but justified, repercussions in the eyes of many Pakistanis.

The shalwar kameez was never a quintessentially Muslim dress, but rather its veneration by Pakistani men represents state control over women’s bodies at the expense of their agency.

Malala, however, has consistently been seeing as defying such cultural norms, while also challenging the premise of a nationhood that relies on a woman’s honour, thereby breaking out of the notions of chaadar and chaar dewari that so many men in Pakistan hold onto for dear life.

Zia ul-Haq’s policies that served to subjugate Pakistani women have left a lasting impact much to the detriment of the rights of women in the country. This has led to everyday institutional injustices meted out against women, fueled by not only by religious but also jingoistic identity clashes.

That is why even the violence afflicted on Malala five years ago is ignored, as violence against women is seen as something that resides in the private domain of our lives, at the expense of our lives and sanity.

Malala has risen above all this, which gives the men of Pakistan a lot of cause for insecurity. Hence, be it unsolicited advice, widespread criticism, moral and body policing, or even assault, women like Malala are always ‘asking for it’ according to such men.

This goes to show how the Pakistani state has actively encouraged the regulation and surveillance of women’s bodies, be it through the laws imposed through the Hudood Ordinance that have still not been rectified fully to this day, or the dress codes that are now being imposed in universities across Pakistan.

Related: What is 'Pakistani culture' anyway?

Furthermore, shalwar kameez has grown to become a symbol of a religious form of nationalism. Somehow, it has become a visible marker of a Pakistani Muslim’s identity, a choice emblematic of traditions and honour.

Views echoing such sentiments fail to take into account the malleable nature of culture, and end up promoting cultural homogeneity over diversity. Shalwar kameez was never a quintessentially Muslim dress, but rather its veneration by Pakistani men represents state control over women’s bodies at the expense of their agency.

In fact, the criticism of jeans is not against a kind of fabric; her critics think that her individualistic choices come at the expense of her responsibility as the custodian of the country’s honour.

Also read: Mahira Khan owes Pakistan nothing beyond her work as an artist

Thereby, she is walking over the fragile reputation of her countrymen, which rests on Pakistani women maintaining an air of conservatism, as per societal norms, while representing the country abroad.

It is very clear that such narratives of nationhood exist at the expense of the bodily autonomy and mobility of Pakistani women, thereby leading to the politicisation of female bodies.

Pakistanis are prone to using women as easy political targets to vent cultural anxiety, be it towards Mahira Khan smoking or Malala wearing jeans outside of Pakistan. We thrive on not the display, but the decimation of a woman, for the sake of a spectacle.

Malala's independence, according to many Pakistanis, comes at the expense of the country’s reputation that rests on many things, including the need to conceal and exercise control over female bodies.

In conclusion, the autonomy of Pakistani women is perceived to be a threat to the religious and national integrity of Pakistanis for many reasons. This is why Pakistani women’s bodies happen to be where patriarchy is at control the most: at home.

This also holds true in light of the visceral responses often levelled at Malala and her personal choices. Her independence, according to many Pakistanis, comes at the expense of the country’s reputation that rests on many things, including the need to conceal and exercise control over female bodies.

Such reactions speak of the larger cultural anxieties among Pakistanis that lead to violence against women all over the country. Nevertheless, Malala continues to stand tall, above and beyond the country’s patriarchal mindset, wherever she goes.

Comments

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karwa sach Oct 23, 2017 05:41pm
this stems from the culture of let the boys do whatever they want, yet girls are the bearer of religion and purity.. OR in other words.. treat them like a slave. This is what happens when we all move away from religion and start practicing the stupid old culture. there is a HUGE difference between modesty and Wrapping your women up and holding them hostage within your house.
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jo Oct 23, 2017 05:46pm
so true
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Fiqa Oct 23, 2017 06:11pm
As long as you are fully clothed, it's fine for Muslims like us. I live in the west and I know shalwar wameez is not suited for cold countries as it allows Air to circulate through it . It is more suited for warm countries.
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kafi Oct 23, 2017 06:18pm
Well said
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Shujaat Khan Oct 23, 2017 06:22pm
Pakistani men get a life.
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Shah Oct 23, 2017 06:25pm
There are few things in the world that are more stupid than a Pakistani's opinion on anything.
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LAGHARI ZAHID Oct 23, 2017 06:28pm
Great...!
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RIZ Oct 23, 2017 06:30pm
It's non of other people business what she is wearing they should look what she has done it at this age where most of them had achieved nothing.
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Mirza Oct 23, 2017 06:41pm
I always wanted her to be in jeans, not shalwar Kameez.
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Salman Oct 23, 2017 06:42pm
The issue is whether you are the same person on and off camera. People are criticizing her because in her public engagements they have always seen her in shalwar kameez and have never witnessed her in that attire.
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Ayub Oct 23, 2017 07:34pm
This her basic personal right to wear whatever dress she likes for herself. Unfortunately, a specific dress code is enforced upon the women in Pakistan in order to coerce them to submit to the male-dominated society.
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Amaan Oct 23, 2017 07:36pm
If a western female celebrity wears hijab in west, she will face the same kind of prejudice and criticism from men and women alike! So why is everyone making a fuss if pakistani men do the same!
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ahamed Oct 23, 2017 07:48pm
Dear Malala, Do what pleases you, not what Pakistani men want you to do. Wear jeans, continue with your modesty so West can learn and stay on course with your studies at Oxford. You may be Pakistani by birth but don't owe anything to backward and forced culture created by Pakistani men. See Priyank with you and liberate Pakistani women. God Bless
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Tayyab Oct 23, 2017 07:57pm
@karwa sach I couldn't agree with you! I cannot believe that the society can get sick minded on so many levels.
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MG Oct 23, 2017 09:15pm
There is no point is sticking on to 7th century dress code of Arab. Clothes should be worn as per climate conditions and local culture.
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MG Oct 23, 2017 09:17pm
@Fiqa Why fully clothed? This should be based on weather condition and local culture. One should not dress like an alien.
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Zia Oct 23, 2017 10:33pm
Malala, you look great in this attire.
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Commonsense Oct 24, 2017 12:27am
That explains a lot about the current state of Pak­istan
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Salman Oct 24, 2017 01:33am
Who is she in the first place? Why so much debate!
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syedchaudhrygangadinkhan Oct 24, 2017 01:36am
Does Malala know what she is saying? She is so scripted.
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Samina Oct 24, 2017 01:38am
You are proud daughter. Do what you like wear what you want. Pakistani universities are no less fashion hubs and there we finger on people who represent Pakistan. Is there any other daughter to take bullet in her head and still fight?
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Saima Manzar Oct 24, 2017 01:49am
When we have to reply the Indian Foreign Minister on Facebook we use Malala as a Noble Peace Prize laureate as a Pakistani and khudana khuawasta she wears anything else other than shalwar kameez and dupatta we are the first ones to accuse her of dishonoring Pakistan. We are such a confused nation and seriously do not deserve anyone like Malala. And the sad part is that our women are equally responsible for bashing fellow women in every sphere of our lives, homes, schools, and work places. Please wake up and work together for gender equality.
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Common sense Oct 24, 2017 02:36am
The same people protesting this young girl's attire have ZERO issues when highly nationalistic male leaders forgo their shalwar kameez outfits and adorn slick western suits when in UK and USA. Case in point Imran Khan, Ch Nisar etc etc etc! Sigh!!!
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The learningone Oct 24, 2017 02:37am
Haven't we got anything better to do?
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The learningone Oct 24, 2017 02:39am
@Shah hahaha...let me challenge you further.. show me one more thing more stupid! Well said:)
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Common sense Oct 24, 2017 02:40am
...also ... the outfit Malala is pictured wearing is not very unusual for most urban Pakistani girls. If only our nation could let go of their judgemental mentality ... but alas that's too much to ask.
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sailani Oct 24, 2017 03:24am
More power to her, ignore these comments.
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Giselle Garcia Oct 24, 2017 03:36am
Hi Malala I read your book I am Malala it was so shocking when you got shot hope u are felling better and i hope u do great on college it is really hard only if u pay close attention u will be extra smarter
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Dr M a Hussain Oct 24, 2017 03:44am
Ten something undesirable comments on social media are enough to create a fuss about society in general.
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Javed Oct 24, 2017 04:01am
Many girls in urban Pakistan wear jeans, and a 20 year old is an adult and does not need a chaperone.
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nasr Oct 24, 2017 04:52am
What is the difference in Chooridar Pajama and Tight Jeans? I am not a fan of very tight jeans because of a recent study that some of the designed tight jeans are harmful to female health, I say as far as you are modestly dressed over a tight jean it is fine.
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Cosmo Oct 24, 2017 05:05am
@Fiqa Again, it is exactly not what you understood. Give her the freedom to how much and what type clothing she wants to pick. "Fully clothed" is very judgements and just a softer version of radicalism. Let her wear jeans or for that matter shorts, it should be her choice.
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Cosmo Oct 24, 2017 05:06am
@Salman Quit justifying the unjustifiable!
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Cosmo Oct 24, 2017 05:07am
@MG Nope, it should be only by choice, there is no other rule, how one should or should not wear a cloth.
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SYed AnJUM ALI Oct 24, 2017 05:23am
I would like to clarify that there is NO ' quintessentially Muslim dress". Islam is not a monolith as many people keep on trying to depict it. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, there are many Muslim states and societies and also many Muslims living in non Muslim societies too, and there is a great deal of diversity in ways and customs etc. No one can force anyone else to wear this or that in the name of religion or any other cause.
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Amer RAO Oct 24, 2017 05:49am
I think Malala wears always very decent dress . And in our society when girls wear Churidaar Pajama, then no body mind.
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illawarrior Oct 24, 2017 05:55am
Malala is the custodian of no-one's honour but her own. The rest of the country can bear their own responsibilities!
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taybah Oct 24, 2017 06:14am
I don't agree entirely with the idea that shalwar kameez is a form of "controlling woman bodies" in Pakistani culture as both men and woman wear it , and both men and woman have attacked Malala. I do however believe that the attack on Malala for what she is wearing is wrong. I also recognise that there are extremely significant double standards in Pakistani culture. however the article undermines and exaggerates malalas stance making her seem like the enemy of the states culture, when she is rather a propagator. this article further pursues the idea that modesty=oppression another misconception of Pakistani culture, muslim woman like Malala are fighting to diminish. the article also presents Pakistan as a country of largely backward minded people, especially men, when this is not true. I implore the writer to revaluate their aggressive tone. Furthermore Malala is fully aware of the fact that she is a form of representation for both Muslim men and women and more specifically Pakistani woman, and is representing this impeccably graciously.
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Faizan Oct 24, 2017 07:07am
@Amaan exactly like lindsey lohan faced everywhere in.america when she returned from abroad wearing a head scarf the white americans went crazy....
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Nadeem Oct 24, 2017 07:21am
Insecure males, mama boys.
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Be honest Oct 24, 2017 07:35am
Stupids and jerks are everywhere. They are sick minded people. Malala! You must carry on. We trust you and your abilities to make difference. Shut up call to those who criticize and make hype of nothing.
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Shame shame shame shame Oct 24, 2017 08:29am
@karwa sach yes and what about rape, sexual assault, harrasement, abuse, call girl, sellout sex girl and more products derived from these basic freedoms yet happening demented and false outcomes of european american mentality. What about states and cities dedicated to sell women sex slaves out there in america canada europe. What about "say nothing campaign" about aids and worse happening due to your kind of so called dont follow right culture and so on. I believe you may still have toung to reply.
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JawAd Oct 24, 2017 08:36am
Girls and boys are equal. We are practicing an old culture which has no way in today’s growing technology world.
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asif ashraf Oct 24, 2017 08:40am
Well done malala.ignore pakistani hypocrisy
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Realistic Oct 24, 2017 08:41am
@Mirza Kyaa Baat Hain, Mirza Saahib!
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IMRAN QURAISHI Oct 24, 2017 08:49am
I always believed that when you are in a foreign country you should wear that country's dress. Wearing shalwar kameez or any other dress of your native country serves no purpose. I see more and more men and women wearing shalwar kameez when they are out shopping at the stores or malls in Western countries. Please respect the culture of that country and don't try to impose your culture and dress code on them. Wearing your native dress on important occasions like going for Eid namaz, mehndi function and jumma is fine but other than the occasions mentioned it is nothing but being ignorant and rude.
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Khuram Nisar Oct 24, 2017 09:15am
First of all Pakistani public should decide if they own her or not; otherwise they have no right to point fingers if they disown her everywhere. She is the inspiration of our oppressed society but our social media guys have a lot of time to criticize poor girl.
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Mir Oct 24, 2017 09:28am
To criticize our culture, tradition & general public opinion shows how deeply & strongly you are connected with your roots right??? Being a public figure and so called self proclaimed voice of women of the nation one should consider your life style as you are claiming to represent the Pakistani women. Benazir Bhutto upbringing was in west, she even cant converse in Urdu properly but still when she joined Pakistani politics actively she totally transform her life style from western to eastern from modern to conservative as She was a leader representing Pakistan.
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Arsha Oct 24, 2017 09:47am
No difference from Indians. We had a national debate quite recently over Priyanka's attire during her meeting with Modi. We are people obsessed with women's clothes ...that's the small mentality we have.
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Einstein babar Oct 24, 2017 09:50am
who cares? why media is keeping her active in news
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Turth Oct 24, 2017 09:53am
Strange Nation! Always poking their nose in other's matters.
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Khwarizmi Oct 24, 2017 10:21am
Jeans to jeans hai, chahe Malala pehlay yaan Bilawal. Digree to digree hai, chahe jehli ho yaan assli :-P
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mohsin Oct 24, 2017 10:23am
So what if Malala wears jeans. Thousands of women in Pakistan wear jeans and trousers as do women in other Muslim countries.
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Tariq Oct 24, 2017 10:25am
@Amaan instead of supporting both, one should condemn both. Two wrongs cannot make one right
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zeesh Oct 24, 2017 10:38am
why should we care about her
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DM Oct 24, 2017 11:30am
please what u like, just make sure this brain washed kid does not become our future leader
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akbar Ahmed Oct 24, 2017 11:34am
People (especially men) of this reactionary mindset know that the future of society in Pakistan is inevitably vastly different from their wishes. Sadly , instead of accepting the inevitable, they too often imagine that force and violence will restore their imaginary past world.
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mba Oct 24, 2017 12:23pm
We have other problems to solve first than the dress code of someone living in Europe.
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hem.pant Oct 24, 2017 12:41pm
Besides Saree , Salwar Kameez is extensively worn in India by all girls and women. Salwar Kameez had its origin in Punjab and now worn throughout India. . But of lately Jeans and Kameez is being worn by large number of girls and women in India, Jeans ,salwar Kameez is a graceful dress
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akram Oct 24, 2017 12:51pm
if wearing jeans is now now allowed maybe we Pakistanis should stop wearing them and making them. Will they similarly object when the offspring of their own political party wears jeans? Frankly this is nothing more than the usual brigade using any excuse to bash Malala who stands for the modernising agenda, against those who are afraid of change.
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akram Oct 24, 2017 12:53pm
@Salman she is someone people are interested in, who are you?
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akram Oct 24, 2017 12:54pm
@Einstein babar why did you read the story? because people are interested in her story. That is what you don't seem to understand.
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Syed Hassan Ahmad Rizvi Oct 24, 2017 12:57pm
Irrelevant. Write on constructive topics next time. Thanks.
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Zealot Oct 24, 2017 01:07pm
There cant be an assault on national identity that is dead already
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Talha Oct 24, 2017 01:37pm
Keeping aside the writer's viewpoint, I disagree with the following statement as an open-minded Pakistani "Their bodies are continuously associated with controversy and shame, as a result of which successful women like Malala are made to carry the weight of the reputation of not only religious values, but also of Pakistan, on their shoulders." It is not just Malala or successful women like her but all women and men are rightly made to carry the weight of religious values and also of Pakistan when abroad. Because as Muslims we represent what we believe in and when abroad we all are ambassadors of Pakistan. Not just successful women like Malala!
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gopal Oct 24, 2017 01:38pm
The world has moved on but Muslims are stuck with what a woman should or should not wear. Pathetic.
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Naseem Oct 24, 2017 01:50pm
As long as the body of a woman is covered decently it is just irrelevant she wears Pakistani or western dress.
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AsIf jamil Oct 24, 2017 02:03pm
@DM So you prefer to be ruled by corrupt and mostly illiterate people who get elected to the Assembly? She has done a lot in the world for unprivileged girls education in many countries. Pakistanis should be proud of this kid.
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Random Oct 24, 2017 02:12pm
' Quote -The concept of culture in Pakistan is ....... a monolithic perception of religion'....... 'The shalwar kameez was never a quintessentially Muslim dress'. It is an Indian dress unfortunately Hindu culture. Pakistan must desist this dress and go to the Saudi Islamic dress
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mushtaq ahmed Oct 24, 2017 02:39pm
She can wear anything she may like but that has be in conformity with the teachings of Islam.
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alliabsolutions Oct 24, 2017 03:41pm
why male Muslims are wearing western dress ?
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AF Oct 24, 2017 03:44pm
And since when did Malala Yousufzai started being a benchmark for the culture of Pakistan?
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Sajid sajjad abbasi Oct 24, 2017 03:59pm
Malala is an iconic figure. She commands respect and love far higher than where a choice of clothing can impact that. Having said this what the writer wants to advocate - choice to wear what you like or even not wear if you deem it guarantee of you volition, is not acceptable. Culture and law of the land must be respected. I'm Ok with Malala wearing jeans in the west but at the same time I've lot of concerns if she wears the same in KPK. I guess Malala is big enough to understand that. Don't try to confuse fraternity and sorority with nudity.
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Muhibullah Oct 24, 2017 04:45pm
She was covered to the same extent that she always was in Pakistan so I don't know who is complaining and why
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schali Oct 24, 2017 05:06pm
@Salman I see now. By wearing jeans, you can become another person. Fantastic!! That is easy. Then, she wants to be another person, a student who can run from one class to another without having a cold bite or tripping and falling down or for whatever reason!!
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Syed khalid hussain Oct 24, 2017 05:50pm
It is really strange to criticise Malala for wearing jeans.Dresses are worn according to the climatic condition of the country. I do not understand why do we waste our time in such nitty gritty things.Dresses are entirely personal choice however, Malala being an important personality representing Pakistan has to be careful about her choice of dresses but jeans is perfectly alright.
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Ehsan Oct 25, 2017 01:11am
What is the problem with Pakistani people ?? Whether she wears jeans or a skirt it's her personal life.
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Zafarov Oct 25, 2017 02:07am
It's a shame that Dawn did not display that photograph of Malala in this excellent article. There is nothing remotely objectionable about it. It is an image of a striking young woman exuding supreme self-confidence, walking briskly, while focused straight ahead, with a sense of purpose. Insecure and inadequate men find bold, strong and self-assured women like Malala intimidating and emasculating. So they seek reasons to demean her.
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Nazim Oct 25, 2017 04:09am
Pants and T shirt is the best functional dress in the world, it is being adopted every where and sign of progress. It takes least quantity of cloth , least stitching material and labour, washing and pressing most easy and economical. Finally gives smart look.With Shalwar Qameez every thing is just opposite. Very conservative countries like China and Japan have opted for modern functional dress, may be it is the reason for their advancement.
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Anna Oct 25, 2017 07:21pm
I don't understand why Malala is being criticised for wearing jeans??? Not everyone in Pakistan wears shalwar kameez there's loads of girls here including myself who wear jeans and dresses everyday in Pakistan?
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AMJAD Oct 26, 2017 12:16am
@Shah I hope you arn' t one of them.
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jehanzeb khan Oct 26, 2017 08:32am
who even said it was an assault ? Just a cheap heading to the article.
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manohar Oct 26, 2017 01:00pm
malala or for that matter any indian or pakistani or any one will wear what they like , to hell with people who dont like
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wajid habib Oct 26, 2017 02:39pm
@Amaan true .its culture . no one should only blame or highlight men of it .even women also critics her. everyone have free of speech .
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wajid habib Oct 26, 2017 02:50pm
everyone has freedom of speech. if she wear jeans, it's her right . but if someone critics her. it is also his right. The main thing is the culture norms. This act absolutely conflict to her culture. In fact, her culture even man are critics to wear jeans. There is no point of degrading the women.
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Hasan Oct 26, 2017 03:35pm
@Zafarov I couldn't have put it better. 100% agreed. Hasan
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Rainorshine Oct 26, 2017 04:03pm
Here is my problem... I have no issue with her wearing western clothes. My daughters wear them all the time. My problem is that why doesn’t she wear the same outfit when she represent the oppressed woman from Pakistan on International stage? Why she wears an old granny outfit when she goes on stage and talk about world issues?
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jehanzeb khan Oct 27, 2017 07:16am
@Rainorshine well said. Agree 100%.
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Asad Oct 28, 2017 09:54am
Trying to construct this as a gender issue given the uniqueness of the circumstances of the person involved like this article does is deeply flawed and "playing to the band," women of the middle classes routinely wear jeans in Pakistan.
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