Benazir Bhutto can wear western attire at Oxford and be praised for her achievements, but Malala Yousafzai can’t?

Published: October 20, 2017
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Benazir Bhutto raised her voice, got assassinated and became a “shaheed” (martyr), the same Benazir who chose western attire during her time at Harvard and Oxford University.

One can often witness how wearing hijab becomes an obstacle for women here in Pakistan. Be it at work, school or university, you will always be judged and scrutinised for everything you do. However, I have always wondered how a piece of fabric covering one’s head can depict an individual’s personality, to an extent that people believe it gives them the right to judge you for each and everything you say, do or wear.

Recently, I came across the news of Malala Yousafzai getting admission into Oxford University and later being ‘spotted’ wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt with a dupatta covering her head. To my surprise, instead of being happy for her admission into one of the most prestigious universities in the world, there were many who were upset. Upset on what you may ask? Well, her attire!

Living in the West and being recognised by the people there while her own people hurl accusations at her was least expected.

The society that we live in and the cultural values that we are taught here, we tend to apply all of that on Pakistanis living abroad as well. However, I believe as far as you are dressing up modestly with hijab, it shouldn’t be bothering anyone.

Although it’s very common to hear negative remarks about her every time she is highlighted in the media, but an objection on her attire was least expected. Accusing her of being a paid agent or an American puppet is another topic altogether, but commenting on what she wears with her hijab is absolutely not right.

Given the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the world, one can’t expect her to wear shalwar kameez at her university every day. Like other students, she has the right to dress up in whatever makes her feel comfortable. Being a Muslim, it is already difficult for her to adjust in the western world because of the image that certain extremists or conservatives have created of us Muslims in general. If she made a small attempt in order to adapt to her university’s environment, was she hypocritical and wrong? It’s not like she forgo her hijab for the sake of blending in since she still covers her head.

Attacking Malala for wearing something which doesn’t appeal your eye isn’t appropriate or justified. And it’s commonly seen that Pakistanis who go abroad are under the microscope all the time. Why are these stereotypes in place for overseas Pakistanis when they’re not even enforced in Pakistan?

Was Mahira Khan bashed for wearing a dress and smoking in New York or for wearing that dress and smoking in general? Because if it’s the latter, then news flash for you people, it happens in Pakistan also – yes, Pakistani women smoke and yes they wear dresses, not publically, but they do.

People here fail to realise that shalwar kameez is the national dress of Pakistan, not of Muslims. Therefore, if you are observing hijab anywhere in the world, it’s absolutely your call whether to wear shalwar kameez, kurta pajama or jeans and shirt with it. You always follow the culture and surrounding of where you live and not where you came from.

It’s pretty evident why it’s so easy for people to just sit and pass comments or make baseless judgments on others. Instead of doing something for their own country, it’s easier to just sit and comment on those who are actually making an effort, because perhaps deep down they know they are not capable enough to do the same.

Only because she is now a famous personality doesn’t give anyone the right to comment on her personal attire or invade her privacy. I wonder how we have the audacity to comment and judge anyone who becomes famous and invade their personal space, let alone take their pictures without consent. Clearly everyone is paparazzi now!

Malala is time and again seen in the news being the voice of the deprived females of Pakistan’s rural areas who are not given basic rights such as education. She is a representation of Pakistani girls who don’t have the freedom of choice. Keeping aside all the false and negative thoughts that come into our minds, can we simply focus on how she has become the face of our societal norms? How she stood against injustice and fought for her rights? She was shot for raising her voice, for the love of God!

Benazir Bhutto raised her voice, got assassinated and became a “shaheed” (martyr), the same Benazir who chose western attire during her time at Harvard and Oxford University. So Malala, a young girl who left her country for the sake of her life, is wrong for donning western apparel at Oxford, but Benazir is not? I don’t see her pictures going viral on social media, do you?

I am a hijabi, have worn jeans and shirt to university and now do the same when I go to my office. This doesn’t give anyone the right to say that I am a bad person or how I am disrespecting the essence of hijab. At least I am making an effort. Wearing hijab doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to wear what I feel like but non-hijabi’s are. We need to realise the fact that women who observe hijab are also human beings and are already struggling to become better.

Photo: Screenshot

Hijab doesn’t make things haram (forbidden) for us. It’s a common dilemma here in Pakistan; a cool, smartly dressed girl, wearing jeans and a shirt, smoking sheesha (hookah), is not judged. But when a sophisticated hijab-donning girl smokes, it becomes haram (forbidden). Why? It’s equally bad for both. It will equally affect both of them and their health.

Please stop judging. We need to start appreciating and realise the efforts that are being made by others. Instead of always criticising everything, we should rather do something ourselves first before speaking ill of anyone.

It is very sad that our own community trivialises the accomplishments of a brave, confident, smart young girl who was shot in our country by the Taliban only because she wanted to study. It is high time we change this stereotypical mindset and become a bit civilised.

If we follow the western world in how they live and what they do, then follow them for the space and respect they give to their fellow citizens as well. Malala is one of the few Pakistani citizens who are admired and respected by the whole world. It’s heart-breaking how her own people are not giving her credit for the heroic battle she won. Shame on us and our hypocrisy!

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

The author is a graduate from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She is working as a designer at Khaadi. Writing has always been her passion.

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

  • vinsin

    Bhuttos are seen as rich and spoil whereas Malala a poor girl from swat. It is the status that is questioned here. It is caste and a class war lurking inside head.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Bhutto belonged to an affluent class who could afford to send kids to Oxford. Malala is most probably on a scholarship.

    Worlds apart.

    Bhutto was a power hungry political heir – Malala was a 14 year girl shot in the head by the Taliban, after which she shot to international fame.

    Worlds apart.

    Benezir was a product of royalty; Malala is a product of consequence and media networks.

    Worlds apart.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    Hypocrisy is second nature to most people in this country.Recommend

  • Zarnish Kabir

    In case you don’t know,
    Benazir faced the worst character assassination ever in Pakistan’s political history, her pictures were thrown down from choppers by the Punjab Govt. titled “BB ka Parda”, she was called a Taxi on the floor of the parliament & the entire right wing press ashamed her simply for being a WOMAN.
    She didn’t get any “Class-Benefits” from creeps who can make any civilization feel sick in the guts….Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    those days were different. Bin Ladens also wore such clothes. Not now. Radicalism has dramatically increased. In today’s world, Benazir would have worn a burka.Recommend

  • peter pan

    I think Malala should wear a Full burka (tent) once at least and see whether Oxford continues to accept her!!Recommend

  • SHAH S

    Maybe the mullahs want her to also wear a big long Beard.. Its none of their business and should keep to themselves as attire and religion is absolutely personal and private… If these mullahs continue to keep interfering in others personal and private affairs, then soon someday others will also interfere in their lives and force their mindset on them and then maybe they will be hunted down …. ;Recommend

  • Rooh Ullah Khattak

    This stupid nation of ours ll not stop poking nose in lives of others. Pity the size of head and the amount of brain it contains if any who thinks Malala should be wearing what they like. Grow up kids. Don’t you see western dress wearing girls here at home in Islamabad and lahore and karachi? Do you plan to mend people here? Do you have any right to poke your noses in other people’s lives??Recommend

  • Greywolf

    do you have any proof this was being done for her being a woman? or is there any chance that perhaps her political rivals wanted to degrade her over her abysmal record as PM and her incompetence to make the country an iota better or safer?Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Go_Nawaz_Go HassaanM

    “Malala is a product of consequence and media networks.” Quite aptly put.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely said….and I completely agree with you.
    Why is the Pakistani mindset stuck in the Neanderthal age ? …..because every time a Pakistani strives to rise, the remaining 180 million ( not all Pakistanis ) pull that person down.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    Millions of Muslims girls wear jeans and dress pants around the world and those don’t wear should never hesitate or feel shame wearing them. I personally know many males who object and use foul language, female members of their families wear them too.Recommend

  • Amer Lodi

    For God sake….No comparison between Benazir and Malala….Benazir was league ahead and a different class all togetherRecommend

  • Muhammad Usman

    What wrong with her dress. She is covered from head to toe. I am not a malala fan, infact i think that millions of other women of Pakistan who raise their children right despite poverty and hardships deserve the nobel prize way more than Malala ever did. But her attire is appropriate and i appreciate her for covering so well while in UK. There is no need for criticism here and people who think her attire inappropriate should get help.Recommend

  • Muhammad Akram Abbasi

    Suchlike discussions are generated by sick minds. Please leave her alone so that May fully devote to her studiesRecommend

  • Muhammad Shohaib Hassan

    Had we not already discussed enough in favour and against her, that we had to do it once more.Recommend

  • İfrāh Śhāhęęn

    Don’t compare malala with Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in any case.. i repeat Don’t.. !!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, we can always have a hindu student at Oxford, dress like a sadhu
    and see what happens.Recommend

  • Nana

    Are you trying to say that being of different class does not allow Malala to wear clothes that are normal in the country that she is residing in? I have seen girl of a watch man in Pakistan wearing jeans in a beauty salon where she works. Do you think I should have have approached her and reminded her of her class?Don’t you think that kind of attitude is promoting class distinction whereas all the time we are giving sermons on equality to others?Recommend

  • vinsin

    That was pure politics and was in line with what happened to Fatima Jinnah. There are many Pakistani girls from well-to-do and educated Pakistani families who wear western clothes in western and secular countries and follow secular laws.

    Benazir got both class and caste benefits for being a Bhutto. She did go to boarding school, harvard and oxford, that is class benefit.

    Here the problem is male ego and a society/religion which feeds it further with all national and historical heroes being male whose war, slavery and destruction celebrated. Those heroes supposedly bought order to unordered society.

    The reaction is similar, a male wants to continue his control and power; he is made to believe that he is better always, religiously, physically and intellectually. He is not going to loose his power so easily without giving a good damn fight both physically and mentally.

    Time is the biggest decider, which will bring change in any society, some may take more time than others.Recommend

  • Syed Abood Shah

    No man it’s not possible even if she was born at some alims homeRecommend

  • Syed Abood Shah

    Sir because shari’a does not allow women to govern any country or state in islamRecommend

  • Dan

    True. One is quite a decent girl, who is hated all over the country simply because she raised her voice for injustice against women, which is present all over the country. The other was a corrupt politician, a failed prime minister, and killed by her even more corrupt husband. And don’t call her Shaheed. You don’t get to call someone shaheed just because they were hanged for their crimes and or murdered.Recommend

  • Kralik

    BB was not praised for being BB before ZAB was hanged. She was just another one of his kids. Malala’s case is different. Do not compare the two. BB did not make speeches to the UN or was given the NPP. She was just another student at Oxford just like IK was.Recommend

  • Mukhtara Mai

    Hold on people, the mini skirt is also coming. Hold on people…..control your emotions and let the liberals do what they like.Recommend

  • Nana

    Who says so? Stop interpreting Sharia as you think right. BTW, here the topic is wearing clothes and not governing a country. Stick to the topic please.Recommend

  • Nargis Kamal

    How is Malala’s dressing your or anyone else’s problem? As IF there aren’t any real issues in life…?Recommend

  • Faisal

    This sums it up. These should be the last word on the matter and all these trolls should mind their own business. Sigh.Recommend