Hijab decision – 09 Mar 2023

IN yet another example of the authorities enforcing what really should be a personal decision, the education department of Azad Kashmir has decided to make the wearing of hijab mandatory for students and teachers at coeducation schools. The rule will be `strictly` enforced, the AJK government maintains, and schools flouting the rules will be penalised. A picture of the notification went viral on social media, prompting many to criticise the enforcement of the hijab.

It is a travesty that, instead of focusing on improving the quality of education and addressing its shortcomings, AJK authorities are more focused on telling women what to do. Regardless of how many women wear the hijab in AJK, it is no business of the government to make this law. Veil-wearing is a personal decision, one which women take after putting thought into it. For the authorities to make this decision for them clearly demonstrates their partiality to moral policing. In India, states which have banned veils are guilty of a similar transgression, whereby they are forcing their might on an issue that is purely personal. It is also ironic that in both scenarios, women are the targets. Rarely do we see restrictions and bans of a personal nature being enforced on men. For women, however, the state cites everything from religion to security to suit its purpose.

The policing of women must end, and women should be free to decide whether or not they want to wear the hijab. Taking away that agency from them will only embolden the authorities to police citizens in other aspects as well. Though AJK has far higher literacy rates than most regions (in Pakistan), the quality of education is still quite poor. One study showed that over 20pc of students in the fifth grade are unable to read a simple story in Urdu; many were not able to do basic math. The education department should put its energy into addressing these issues first.

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