Why do we have ‘ladies parks’? Can’t trust ladies with men?

Published: October 6, 2013
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Parks in Peshawer are increasingly being used for fitness purposes, by men and women alike. PHOTO: FILE

Going to work in the morning becomes interesting when you start to notice things that have changed over time in the typically conservative environment of Peshawar.

One such change has been the increasing use of parks and roads in the residential areas of Peshawar, for fitness purposes. It is so encouraging to see the morning joggers and walkers including bearded men, veiled females and the youth. Out of these, the most promising sight is the increasing number of females that can be seen in the early hours of morning, wrapped in big chaddars or abayas, making an effort to stay fit.

Even if they just take a brisk walk, they are clearly making a statement that they are not suppressed by their veil and that they have the right to choose. These women can be seen in groups as well as alone, which is another positive sign since it means that they don’t feel threatened by venturing out without a companion.

Another new phenomenon – which I do not find as appealing – is the number of ladies’ parks cropping up in Peshawer; here only women are allowed.

This was such a new concept for me that I looked it up on the internet. In my search, I found out that this was not something restricted to Peshawar; in fact, ladies’ parks have been established in Lahore, Gujranwala and Gujrat.

As a firm proponent of female rights and empowerment of women, I found this concept strange and in some ways even belittling. The mere existence of these parks made it seem like either the government and society cannot ensure the security of women, or that our culture is too controlling. In both cases, to me it seemed as though women are being put in golden cages to give them the ‘illusion of freedom’ while keeping them confined in actuality.

However, looking at it from a different angle, I realise that perhaps as a community we have started to treat women as equals and are paying attention to their needs by providing them facilities so that they can focus on themselves. Perhaps, we are ready to allow them to have some time dedicated to their own well-being.

After all, these parks allow women to move freely and interact with like-minded women. They are able to exercise, walk, jog and socialise as they please. In a patriarchal society, these venues provide women with much-needed physical as well as mental stimulation. In addition, not only are these parks a necessary respite for women who are bound by the norms of a male-dominated society; they also provide them relief from gawking men who seem to have X-ray visions and cannot help but snigger and whistle at any kind of female form.

As an eternal optimist, I would like to think that the reason for the establishment of ladies’ parks is the latter. It gladdens me to think that women are not confined in these parks, but gain more liberty and confidence in a place where they can be free from the rules set by men and society. However, even though establishing these parks is a step forward and a much-needed outlet for women, as a society we need to progress to a level where women are not objectified or harassed even in the open society.

Respect for women does not simply mean shrouding them in miles of cloth or confining them to restricted areas; it also means interacting with them just like one would interact with a man. In order to truly liberate and protect women at the same time, society needs to learn to stop treating women like objects; men need to listen to and respect their opinions as well as understand their feelings and emotions.

I know that we have a long way to go but acknowledgement of the problem is a start. I just hope that establishment of ladies’ parks will not take us in the opposite direction, that is, increase isolation and confinement of women.

Dr Gul e Saman

Dr Gul E Saman

An academic who resides in Peshawar. She has recently completed her PhD in Computer Science from the University of York, UK.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • BlackJack

    The veil objectifies women, since it is meant to guard the modesty of women – and implies that women without the veil are immodest. Now you have created a larger veil in the form of a park where women can stay away from the constantly prying eyes of men (almost all muslim, btw – whom the Quran asks to lower their gaze). I am (not) amazed that the strictures of Islamic dress is far less rigorous on men than women – maybe people who support feminist causes (like the blog writer) should demand equal discipline among men?Recommend

  • bashir

    It is common knowledge that South Asia and Egypt have perhaps the highest figures for female harassment(adjusted by population)..do you want to keep your optimism in such a culture?Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Its actually about preferring revelation over reason.Recommend

  • S

    I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with female parks. It happens even in the UAE, where they have specific days when only ladies can enter the confines of certain beaches, or ladies days when just ladies are allowed into the Global Village. ( i’m not sure of it now, but i personally have been there few years back). The concept of ladies park is liberating to me. It shows how women’s needs of staying fit, or of simply having a nice time are not overlooked but looked into. It means liiberating them from the confines of their homes for fear of being ogled at if they went out jogging. Where i live, we don’t have ladies parks or anything of the sort, and so, frustrated after a few days of my early morning walks, i abandoned the idea altogether. facilitating any age group of the society is a positive step and it should be encouraged as such. Trying to draw unnecessary criticism for no apparent reason what so ever serves only to discourage any good that is being attempted by those concerned ( those who should be concerned more often ). So enjoy your morning walks, jump around and have a merry time.Recommend

  • umer

    The policy of segregation is also known as cruel pratice of Apartheid. by seperating males from females has always produced negative results.

    The sexual voilence ,rape , are the direct result of these plicies.
    i have lived in pakistan and living in europe for very long and i have experienced both sides .Recommend

  • umer

    i have seen the women in most obscene manners and watched people merely noticing it, no man has even thought of slightly bothering them ,this is morality.and has been achieved by not seperating .Recommend

  • rehman1

    in my belief men become less phobic about skin show in women with education!as we see in our urban centres in karachi and lahore! its a slow process! moreover pakhtuns have the baggage of culture and honour!it takes time to go away! i mean pakhtuns here in lahore have no problem seeing women in all kinds of clothes in lahore but become pakhtuns in peshawar!hypocrate much?Recommend

  • Othmaan

    Sister! There is nothing wrong with this concept and it is a great way of protecting women from the evils of society while enabling them to do a healthy activity. I hate to think like a pushtoon. I am a muslim and firmly believe that the social rules made for us by our true creator will result in the creation of a better society. There will be harassment of women wherever there is intermingling of the sexes. Western societies are an example. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept and I applaud the people who are responsible for its success. Recommend

  • Pakistani

    From the 1960s onwards, with the advent of feminism and other movements, a particular reference frame has crept into the minds and has embedded inside the heads quite firmly. It not only clouds judgements, but also respect for culture and societal norms, let alone religion. Every act is now viewed by wearing the glasses of “women rights”. But, with the soaring increase in divorce-rates, introduction of internet-pornography, and “liberation” of women, has it really yielded well-being for women after the 1960s? It has, in different areas, given women their deserving rights, but what if the skew has tilted more than it should have been? Serious questions need to asked.Recommend

  • Misterio Vida

    well, maybe you resided outside peshawar for too long.. the last 5 years has changed it for the worse and now whenever I visit the city, I find it a strange place even though I lived there for 5 years .. :(Recommend

  • Pappu

    The presence of women (most beautiful creature of God) completes the beauty of nature and helps men to become more civilized. Stalkers or men causing nuisance must be dealt with law and punishment.Recommend

  • Katarina

    Isn’t the main problem that women cannot walk freely in the society? Address the root cause (the harassing men) instead of building cages around the women.Recommend

  • AL

    I live in the West, am a young female, and have never been harassed by a man there; nor have my friends. It doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s very rare. In fact, the only places I have been harassed by men are in South Asia (where it has happened a lot – sexual harassment and groping).

    You need to accept the fact that societies where men and women mix freely and are given equal rights are generally safer. To see men and women together isn’t taboo – it’s normal. Children grow up seeing it as normal, and therefore it doesn’t cause problems for women. The vast, vast majority of men don’t give a second thought to the fact there are women in their midst, let alone harass them.Recommend

  • Fahad

    so a/c to you where is rape prevalent more? pakistan or europe?Recommend

  • Syed Rizvi

    Whats so wrong about all this. The increase of rape in Pakistan is because Pakistani media & schools are promoting vulgarity/nudity and with co-education. This has created a moral crisis in the west.

    http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/21-signs-that-u-s-public-schools-have-become-training-centers-for-sexual-deviancy

    We will become soon like America if we keep on promoting this western culture.Recommend

  • Saba

    “Out of these, the most promising sight is the increasing number of
    females that can be seen in the early hours of morning, wrapped in big chaddars or abayas, making an effort to stay fit.

    Interesting how women or females are “THAT” in Peshawar. Like a thing – not a human being!Recommend

  • Tahira

    I would feel much freer in a woman’s park than in a mixed park. This is an opportunity to improve women’s health, that is all and that is how women should look at it. Why drag men in to everything? Let them be wherever they are. Women need a little time to compete with other women and enjoy their success at losing weight and getting fitter. In fact, there should be a women’s park close by the parliament house so our senators/parliamentarians most of whom are so dreadfully out of shape can do a little exercise in tea breaks instead of grabbing samosas with tea. In fact I would recommend a park for our religious ulema who are also in great need of exercise and learning to make do with one-third of what they are consuming just now. When Pakistanis are dying of starvation, how can any one be the size of our Ulema?Recommend

  • AL

    Not true. You need to read my comment about about being a woman in the west.Recommend

  • Gingo

    Didn’t expect this from a Rizvi.
    If according to you coeducation, vulgarity and nudity are behind increase in rape icidents being reported, by the same token are you going to blame the killing of your sect on violent movies and western gun culture too?Recommend

  • wajid

    If I have to choose between becoming like America or Afghanistan, I will definitely choose America !Recommend

  • Haroon

    Almost 25 % or more girls have been Raped before reaching the age of 25 in America. Maybe they are less stalkers than Pakistanis but they are no good than us as I’m sure our rape cases are far less. Just liberalising woman is not the only solution. Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    @d1bb882c204effe993d1a2c43984b843:disqus I accept the teachings of quran and that women need to guard their modesty etc, but my point is that there are some instructions for men too as you have mentioned. they should not try to make the lives of women who leave their homes hard to an extent that rather than being themselves they prefer to stay at home and not pursue what they want to.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    @rehman1:disqus I would rather not stereotype by race. Its not about pukhtoons or punjabis its about the mind setRecommend

  • Dr Gul-E-Saman

    agreed to some extent but I am talking about treating women as another fellow human, as an equal and not some one who has to stared at etc… I want more tolerance towards women and not discouragement if they want to pursue a certain path. Men need to observe certain boundaries and those boundaries should not only be enforced on women.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    That is exactly what I have stated that it gives more freedom from the ogling etc but at the same time the mindset that women feel vulnerable about going out is very discouraging. Also, that the rules are set by men for women and not vice versa. They should be set by considering both sides.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    I would prefer the middle path (moderation) none of the extremes is good, there is a downside to both.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    liberating women would mean they have more exposure and can learn more hence, would be aware of their rights etc the rights and wrongs. The mindset if changed will change alot.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    They are not that its just the way its expressed. The whole point of this piece is to highlight the point that females should be treated as equals by men hence, as a human. Keeping in mind that they are not an object!Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    This a first time that I am hearing education as a reason for the increase in rape. No educational system that I know of promotes vulgarity or nudity. Media as far as i see Pakistani media it is still a lot more conservative as opposed to the most countries. Do you have statistics and research from an authentic source that supports your claim?Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    It is not about living away from Peshawar, it is more about how we tend to discover things as we venture out or explore.Recommend

  • Dr Gul E Saman

    No one is dragging men into everything. I would reiterate that it is about the mindset.Recommend

  • Katarina

    Do you have any source for that? According to international statistics there are around 27 rapes per 100 000 persons in US. Rape is one of the most underreported crimes so the statistics are not reliable. In countries where women are allowed freely to participate in the community women are also more willing to report rape crimes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#United_StatesRecommend

  • Syed Owais Mukhtar

    Are you talking of West, where every second thousands of women are raped?Recommend

  • wajid

    Even though, I don’t fully agree with the concept of Ladies only park, these parks are giving chance to people, who otherwise won’t be going to the conventional parks.Recommend

  • Hasan

    The idea that the prevalence of rape in the West (which isn’t really an empirically valid observation) is somehow contingent upon a culture in which women are treated as equals both by men and women, in terms of making their own decisions, is disturbing.Recommend

  • ASY

    I am not a conservative Muslim, who covers her face, but a moderate one. But even then, I find ladies parks or ladies days at parks, a blessing!! If I go for a walk or some exercise at the park, I don’t like it when men stare. Oh and please don’t tell me that men will not stare. THEY DO!! Ladies have as much a right, to enjoy parks, nature and fresh air, as men. They want to do that, while not being worried about their respect etc. Or the worries of harassment. Be it only visually. I live in Dubai and I thank god that I have the opportunity of ladies days at all parks and beaches. I go and I can enjoy nature in privacy!!Recommend

  • rehman1

    Stereotypes are made when somethng is very prevalent.whch in this case implies that pakhtuns are a conservative lot.Recommend

  • Ayesha!

    Mr. Othman, I applaud your appreciation for the fact that women are more active and taking a healthy responsibility for themselves, however when you say “There will be harassment of women wherever there is intermingling of the sexes.”; doesn’t this signify that men are incapable of ‘not-harassing’ women? In such a case, doesn’t the fault lie with the men of our culture. In my experience, it is the men of our society who need to respect women, treat them as their equal and refrain from harrassing them. Just because a man cannot control himself, why does the burden of avoidance lie on the female?

    Furthermore, a few of the comments on the thread raise the point that sexual harassment and rape are more prevalent in the west because of inter-mingling etc; in my experience as someone who has lived in both Pakistan and the west, I feel much more threatened in our society. The harassment in Pakistan is much more subtle and much much more common. Furthermore, there exist no applicable laws in this country to allow a woman to report a man who has groped her in a crowd, rather she risks being judged as low of character, even rape is not being dealt with effectively. In the west such an act can land a man in the police station if nothing else. The reason our society sees such few ‘rape’ cases is because hardly any are reported, whereas the amount of harassment/molestation/rape here maybe if not more, at par with the west.

    Perhaps, it is time that instead of focusing on limiting the women of the society, we teach the men to limit themselves and control their actions.Recommend

  • umer

    Dear, are you mentioning west of Pakistan because in whole Western Europe the number of rapes are fewer than Punjab. and another most important humiliating , and shamefull fact is that 99% are committed by men of Muslim Afro/Arab/Asian decent.

    The act of denial , predjudice and false proudness is the major contributer of moral decline.Recommend

  • Syed Rizvi

    I have posted a link with facts. How about you guys stop imagining how cool America is just by basing on hollywood movies compared to actually ppl living here. & Bollywood also copies from them. & we are trying to be cool by copying bollywood & hollywood.

    Here is another link of how women are treated & how ppl in the east are copying it, & its everything but civilized society.

    trutube.tv/video/4851/Killing-Us-Softly-4-2010-Jeane-KilbourneRecommend

  • Syed Rizvi

    we all are products of western culture.

    trutube.tv/video/4851/Killing-Us-Softly-4-2010-Jeane-Kilbourne watch this. this lady is not a muslim & defending women should not be treated as sex objects. But our media is promoting all this.Recommend

  • AL

    “In countries where women are allowed freely to participate in the community women are also more willing to report rape crimes.”

    That is exactly right. In countries where women are treated as less than men, and as being at fault for being the victim of a rape, women who are abused are far less likely to report it than in a country where they’re treated with dignity, sensitivity and respect. It’s really not rocket science, yet some people struggle with these facts.Recommend

  • AL

    “We will become soon like America if we keep on promoting this western culture.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m pretty sure you’d happily accept a visa to the US if you got the opportunity. I’m also pretty sure there won’t be too many Americans rushing to come and live in Pakistan.Recommend

  • x

    By mix freely, you mean sexual freedom. I would not like to condone or condemn sexual freedom but yes, I agree when young people are allowed to express their romantic/sexual attractions, have relationships with the opposite sex, and men have freedom to find willing partners for relationships/flings/one night stands, whatever takes their fancy, then ogling or harassing women would decline. However, this has its own issues but that’s going off topic.Recommend

  • Sukhwinder (PUNJAB LION)

    Wow, the Hindutva-vadi comment brigade really needs to get a life!

    FOCUS ON YOUR OWN PROBLEMS: India’s rape epidemic, mistreatment of hijras and “dalits”, forced arranged marriages, etc. Stop trolling foreign sites and fix Indian society which is just as messed up as Pakistan’s!

    Of course, my advice will be ignored because Hindu nationalists only support left/liberal causes when it’s in their interest. Mention the evils of Indian society and these same people will start foaming at the mouth and yelling loud, mostly incomprehensible gibberish.

    By the way, this is all coming from an Indian! :)Recommend

  • x

    Similarly I prefer ladies only gym even though there’s a mixed gym as well not because I fear men will ogle (sorry to sound snooty but the crowd is not the type to gawk at women) but just because I feel more comfortable exercising with only women around.Recommend

  • thegirlinpink

    I guess ladies parks are only meant to provide a more comfortable environment to the women. There are ladies parks in Rawalpindi as well. I don’t take these as anything negative. Instead I think its a good idea to invite those women who are reluctant to visit parks otherwise.Recommend

  • Katarina

    Mixing freely does not mean sexual freedom. It means that women can participate in the society as other human beings instead of being closed behind walls, women-only parks or schools.Recommend

  • Syed Owais Mukhtar

    France 10,277 rape cases, Germany 7297, Russia 6208, Sweden 4900, out of the top 20 list there is only 3 Muslim countries, while the “top 13 countries” are all belong to “non-muslims” mostly western side, and talking of Europe Sewden Argentina(south America) Belgium(western europe) on 4th 5th 6th number, what a shame umer, this is your so called beloved Europe, at least get your stats straight!Recommend

  • Katarina

    As you know rape is one of the most under-reported crimes. “In many parts of the world, rape is very rarely reported, due to the extreme social stigma cast on women who have been raped, or the fear of being disowned by their families, or subjected to violence, including honor killings. Furthermore, in countries where adultery and/or premarital sex are illegal, victims of rape can face prosecution under these laws, if there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove a rape in the court. Even if they can prove their rape case, evidence during investigation may surface showing that they were not virgins at the time of the rape, which, if they are unmarried, opens the door for prosecution.”

    That is why advanced western countries show higher numbers because in these countries women are able to report the rape to the police. Even the idea of having separate parks for women in western countries is ridiculous as women are a normal part of the society.Recommend

  • AL

    No, I didn’t mean sexual freedom. Do not tell me what I mean to suit your own agenda.

    Mixing freely means just that – going to a park where men and women are welcome, for example; working alongside men; learning alongside men; socialising alongside men; having equal status is society with men. It’s obviously such an alien concept for you that you struggle to understand.

    And on the topic of sexual freedom, seeing as you brought it up (one track mind perhaps?), yes, women and men do have much more sexual freedom in the West. If two consenting, unattached adults choose to have a romantic and/or sexual relationship together, what business is it of yours, or anyone else’s for that matter?

    Welcome to the 21st century.Recommend

  • Othmaan

    Ms. Ayesha … You are absolutely right about the formulation of law against groping and harassing men … They should be dealt with force. The law has to do a lot to secure women. They should be made example of. But do you know how many cops dies the last month in Peshawar? Can you kindly explain the condition of peshawar to me ?
    Now what should I do, take my female family member let her jog on the GT road or take her to a family park. What is my option in Peshawar. There is a space for women and men have been told that this is their space. Don’t exploit it. Or we should ask women to jog and guard every nook and corner of the city. What if a cop is not present on any corner?. Our society is sick and we are in a pretty bad shape right now. We are at war. The “shoulds” are easy to say but hard to implement. These things take time and a step towards betterment should be heartily welcomed. This is the best option right now. So ladies of peshawar! Awail it or get fat… your choice… Or you want to jog at a place where mostly men jog?… Stop harassing us… We are sensitive too… I really feel awkward someone jogging behind me checking out my curves…
    The place where I used to live in US had many groping night monsters… Who used to grope and molest famales walking late night from the campus… Yes you are right! … He must be a pakistani or wait somebody from Peshawar or maybe me… I wonder how safe would those ladies feel walking on the road… I have never harassed a woman here or in the west… So does this make a strong case? No! it doesn’t. They cannot secure every square foot of the earth with cops.
    We are stuck between islamic and non-islamic laws. If there were islamic laws , nobody would have dared to harass any of the ladies. Islamic laws and public punishments are the only way you can feel safe and secure. Slash the idiot.Recommend

  • Saurabh

    The more you hide, the more they stare.
    Think about it.Recommend

  • Nadia Sarwar

    And ladies don’t stare? Don’t tell meRecommend