Is smoking banned for women in Pakistan?

Published: November 20, 2012
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Smoking in a patriarchal society is a men-only activity. PHOTO: REUTERS

“Isn’t smoking for women banned in Islam?” asked a friend from the UK. “Are you allowed to smoke in Pakistan, being a woman?”

Many times, women in this great nation come across such questions. Having attempted to clear these misconceptions a number of times, it was only pragmatic, if not necessary, to search for the root cause of these misgivings. Is Islam being hijacked by our cultures, traditions and social norms?

My answer, plainly, was, “No, smoking is not banned for women in Pakistan.”

With his flabbergasted look, I realised that my answer did not pacify the curiosity of this media-influenced gentleman.

Smoking in a patriarchal society is a men-only activity. Quaid-e-Azam, the founder of this nation, smoked but the women of this country were prohibited from doing so. Why?

Social taboos being converted into religious prohibitions reflects the confusion faced by the average Pakistani. Citing the damage smoking causes to human health seems a more plausible stance to take when labelling smoking a taboo, than stooping to the men-can-do-what-they-like attitude. Unfortunately, in accordance with the general consensus in Pakistan, smoking seems only to be injurious to the health of women.

To get an overview of the mindset of the average Pakistani, all one has to do is Google articles on women — spoilt-liberal-fascist-socialites of loose character as they are commonly referred to — smoking in Pakistan and look at the thread of comments that follow. Deeming a woman unfit for marriage or a workplace due to her ‘extracurricular activities’ — despite her male counterparts indulging in the same activity — is not only unfair but lacks reasonable judgment.

Just like abortion, smoking, too, has become a controversial topic of discussion. Women seen smoking in public are automatically stereotyped as being cunning charlatans with no morals or respect for society — a person who will most definitely be seen partying it up into the wee hours of the night with strange men and, of course, if she smokes, she probably drinks, too.

Besmirching a woman’s personality and labelling her a conniving temptress unfit for society whilst in the same breath congratulating a boy for his initiation into manhood sorely damages reasonability. If smoking is a social taboo for its negative impact on health, then it should be stated so for medical reasons across the board; overshadowing it with a patriarchal decree serves no moral purpose and negates rationality.

Read more by Erum here or follow her on Twitter  @shaikherum

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