The fault in our minds: Bushra Maneka’s attire is her business and choice, and hers alone

Published: September 2, 2018
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This shouldn’t even be about modesty. It is a simple choice of clothing and that is what it should be taken as. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PTI OFFICIAL

While Pakistan’s political fate is changing, the people of this nation believe there is something more important that needs to be focused on. Yes, unfortunately, that topic is Bushra Maneka’s choice of attire.

This is not the first time that women’s choice of clothing has become a hot topic of discussion. As a confused country, it seems as though we are never content with anything. When Mahira Khan was spotted in a backless dress with Ranbir Kapoor, people bashed her for wearing a revealing outfit. And here we are, a year later, and we still cannot seem to decide whether we are liberal and progressive or religious and conventional, considering Maneka’s burqa also seems to scare people.

I’ve read a lot of comments regarding this lately and those who are defending Maneka are constantly using the “modest” rhetoric to present their arguments, which I believe is equally problematic. Firstly, “modesty” looks differently for different people because it depends on what exactly they are comfortable wearing, so defining the burqa as the symbol of modesty sends out the misrepresented idea of the term itself.

Secondly, this shouldn’t even be about modesty. It is a simple choice of clothing and that is what it should be taken as.

I fail to understand why women’s clothing is turned into political battles to be fought over when there are larger issues at hand that need our dire attention. Isolating the burqa or purdah to scrutinise or ridicule women is a shameful act and displays people’s ignorance about the impact and role of the purdah, historically, religiously and culturally. As Ziba Mir-Hoesseni, a legal anthropologist, states in her work, Women and politics in post-Khomeini Iran. Divorce, veiling and emerging feminist voices, the rationale behind the veil or the purdah is very complex and has different reasons including, class, region, nationality and culture. More specifically, these categories could be religious, psychological, choice of authentic dress, political, Islamisation of the society, economic, status symbol or protection from public gaze. From a feminist approach, the purdah in fact can be an empowering tool for some as it grants protection and freedom of action for women, to embrace their identity and to give access to public space for economic independence and education.

Secondly, fabricating the veil or purdah as regressive is what led western imperialism and post-colonial narratives to justify the vicious nature of Muslims. In fact, the stereotypical image of the burqa-clad Afghan woman has been used to justify and legitimise the US war in Afghanistan. This has been critiqued in detail by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian scholar, literary theorist and feminist critic, who offers the sentence, “white men are saving brown women from brown men” in order to understand the relationship between the colonised and the coloniser in a deadly competition to win power.

In this case, the reason for “saving” brown women from brown men is that Muslim women have their agency forcibly revoked by barbaric Muslim men. This is factual for the Afghan Taliban since they forced women to wear the burqa and killed those women who protested against it. Still, it is crucial to note that a piece of clothing is not naturally repressive. The extent to which the burqa becomes an oppressive act of purdah depends on contextually-specific extremist interpretation of Islam, misogyny and patriarchy.

Likewise, there are some people that believe Maneka’s burqa would portray a negative image of Pakistan in the international realm. Like I’ve stated above, the stereotypical perception of the burqa is very limiting and more importantly, let’s not forget that there is a growing number of rape cases, targeted killings, disappearances, sectarian issues, and many other types of discrimination that will most certainly reflect negatively on Pakistan’s reputation as a country more than Maneka’s burqa.

Having said that, it is extremely important to educate oneself thoroughly on a topic before one becomes a self-proclaimed expert on it on social media. What a woman decides to wear has now become a phenomenon worth arguing over, showing just how petty our thinking is. Men have generally always been extremely interested in and critical of women’s choice of clothing, especially the conservative religious clerics who think they have the deciding power to declare someone a non-Muslim just based on their attire.

However, what saddens me most is reading comments by women who are bringing down Maneka. This doesn’t even have anything to do with feminism, it is just natural courtesy for women to support other women, considering that any one of us could be made a target of such trolling and bullying in the future.

I do not know Maneka personally, nor am I affiliated with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in any way, which is why I think it is important for me to talk about this; because I am a woman and I know just how imperative it is to support choices of other women. As long as Maneka does not impose this dress code on the women of this nation, it is safe to say that her decision to observe purdah is strictly justified.

Let’s defy and oppose these typical conversations surrounding Maneka’s choice to wear a veil because they belittle and reduce her to her clothing. In an already patriarchal society, where women’s bodies are moralised based on what they wear, let’s try to comprehend just how critical it is to let go of these static viewpoints and attitudes.

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as a Publicist and as the Head of Social Media Marketing. She tweets @purniyaA (twitter.com/PurniyaA?lang=en)

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

  • Zeeshan Khan

    Her name is Bushra Imran now..Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    Thank God. Finally someone with a little brains in this country.

    We have to learn to mind our own business and stop being judgmental. No one is answerable to us and neither are we answerable to anyone. We have to learn to mind our own business. We are more interested in what others are doing and their misgivings than correcting own our mistakes.Recommend

  • Rahul

    It is not the clothes, it is the mindset that goes with the clothes.Recommend

  • Confused

    I have seen pictures of her without her face covered so clearly she picks and chooses when to cover he face and when not to. She of course has a right to choose what to wear and we have a right to criticise it. Like it or not the ‘image’ issue is very important and if the first lady of Pakistan feels the need to shroud herself in this way, the image of Pakistan will be of a regressive, backward country.Recommend

  • Saladin1Chamchawala

    Attire, religious paraphernalia (rosary AKA tasbeeh, AKA prayer beads, naqab , mode of prayer, object of her prayers, prayer rug, chants etc) are her personal choices but no doubt has taken mantle of Pakistan’s Rasputin.
    And THAT is every citizen’s business.Recommend

  • Max

    What if she were the prime minister, would it still be “her business” to wear whatever she wants? Would it also be ok for Imran Khan to wear whatever he wants at official events? Would it be ok for him to, for example wear a track suit to meet a foreign leader? The first lady isn’t the prime minster but in terms of representing the country it is close enough.

    It has nothing to do with being man or a woman. There is a certain decorum expected of a country’s leader and his / her spouse. Mahira can wear whatever she wants, because she represents just herself. Note that I didn’t mention Bushra’s dressing as inappropriate or appropriate. What I’m saying is that in her position her dressing decisions cannot entirely be just a personal choice.Recommend

  • Iftikhar Khan

    If Bushra Bibi has all the freedom to choose whatever attire she would like, then the pygmies bush-women of Kalahari desert should also have all the freedom not to cover most of the body and Yamamoto women of rain forest of Brazil should have all the freedom not wear any attire at all. Simply being a Muslim and given one and half billion Muslims in the world does not make Bushra Bibi attire acceptable and women of minor tribes unacceptable. No country in the world would allow Pygmies and Yamamoto women to visit public places in their native “attires”.

    Point is that if freedom to choose her attire and perhaps expecting respect for religious reasons, Hindus had every right to practice Sati in the past and caste system now and so are the idol-worshipers who have paid the highest price for for the freedom of religion. From Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz all proudly used ” But Shikan” meaning idol smasher in their poetry.

    This kind of freedom actually ends at the tip of your nose. Not everybody approve or appreciate of her attire and she is definitely not welcome among cultures other than her immediate surroundings.Recommend

  • Patwari

    True, Bushra has the right to dress as she chooses and per her religious convictions.
    Whichever comes first. She has that right, undeniably.
    One small fact has to be forefront and center. She is now the wife of the Prime Mister.
    Her life is no longer private. It is in the public domain. Domestically and internationally.
    She can balance it or she can stay in the zanan-khana, under purdah. Which is fine.
    Or she can go around looking like Casper the friendly Ghost, enveloped in that white,
    shroud like, strange looking, ‘burqa’.
    Who knows, maybe she is making a fashion statement,…which will not catch on anytime
    soon.Recommend

  • Anis Motiwala

    Why is the author calling her Bushra Maneka???????Recommend

  • AmericanMuse

    I believe her choice of clothing is revealing of a medieval mindset.Recommend

  • Patwari

    What has Bushra’s clothes have to do with with the primitive, brutal, uncivilized,
    practice of Sati? And the women living in the Kalahari or the rain forests of Brazil..?
    Where climate dictates how you dress, wheather man, woman or child.
    In primitive cultures, off the beaten track, warlords, chieftains, and men who could afford
    it, were buried with their harems, or wives, and horses, and serving maids and cooks, and munshies,and secretaries and guards, and their favorite pet dogs, hey maybe even a pet talking parrot…and lots of food, to keep them company, on their journey in the “afterlife”.
    Wish YOU were a 16 year old Hindu girl, who who would be asked to jump on the funeral
    pyre of her 60 year old husband….then YOU would be singing a different song with a full
    orchestra.
    “…had every right to practice Sati…” would reverse Sati be acceptable? Meaning if the wife
    died, the husband will have to commit Sati. And since you say a caste system is fine, do you wish you were born a Dalit? Or an Untouchable? Nope, you would not wish that. Your opinions would change very very fast. Pronto. Quicklike. Jaldi, jaldi.
    The subject is Bushra and her right to choose what she wears. Not 1.5 billion Muslims or
    Ghalib, or Faez, or Iqbal or Rumi or Pygmies or idol worshippers.
    By the way, there are NO Yamamoto women in the Brazilian Rain Forests.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You are not making any sense. None whatsoever.
    Bushra would not have run for prime minister, because she knows what that requires,
    meaning dress code and everything else connected with that office.
    Talking at rallies, interacting with men in a patriarchal society, dominated by mullas, a cabinet full of men, interacting with foreign leaders who are 99% men. [except for Trump’s poodle, Theresa May]. So, no, Bushra would not run for public office.
    Why should Bushra give up her cultural norms, religious beliefs? Have you seen the wife of King Salman of Saudia? Or King of Brunei? Or Mahathir of Malaysia? Or the wife of the ruler of Emirates? Qatar? Oman? Bahrein? Iran? Afghanistan? Have you? So why single
    out Bushra?
    And, no, Mahira does not represent herself. When you are a celebrity, well known actress,
    then, you also represent your country. Like it or not. It’s automatic.
    Bollywood extremists and fanatics banned Mahira because she is a Pakistani actress, not a British, or Malaysian, or Papua/New Guinean, or Norwegian, actress.
    As Parvez, a frequent commenter here on ET, wrote, every time a Pakistani does well, the rest try to pull him or her down. Pathetic.
    Hopes this helps, just a tiny bit.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Hopefully you still remember the famous quote from Winston Churchill, when he was still
    part of the British Govt. This was regarding Gandhiji…and the independence movement.
    Churchill said…” I will not negotiate with a half naked fakir ” meaning Mahatma’s dhoti
    and cotton sheet that the he normally covered himself with.
    Churchill expected a suited with a tie Gandhiji, sitting across from him, to negotiate.
    Do you see your two faced cunundrum?Recommend

  • Hasan

    Why call her Bushra Maneka? bcz Imran’s ex did not consent to her husband cheating on her with a married woman. If young Pakistanis cannot see a problem with that, well then!Recommend

  • Shazia

    Her attire never was, never is and never will be and should not be anyone’s problem.

    The real problem lies in the hypocrisy. The way she and IK had an affair and got married. Totally negating the religious person she is posed.

    I’m not even against affairs and love marriages but the way they got married goes totally against Islam and the shrouded person she poses to be.Recommend

  • Sane

    People of Pakistan have no issue with the attire of first lady of Pakistan. Objection may be raised for any other women in the world in the same manner.Recommend

  • rak

    Let her wear whatever she chooses leave her alone and mind your own business please.Recommend