Recently, a huge debate started online when a minister said in one of his speeches that female students wearing headscarves at colleges would be given extra marks. On social media, this statement seemed to have attracted a lot of criticism, and duly so. However, we cannot ignore the people – the majority – who would approve of such a decision. Look around, you will find people in your own immediate circle of acquaintances who would support this decision. You see, the statement made by the minister, as crazy as it may have sounded at the moment, doesn’t come out of thin air; it is a statement with deep roots within our society.

One thing I’ve seen in Pakistan is the fact that a woman is almost always judged by her appearance. A modest woman covers her hair, an immodest woman does not. Even Pakistani media tends to support such stereotypes. Countless extremely popular television drama series have revolved around a ‘modest’ girl donning a dupatta on her head. The ‘bad woman’ in all these dramas has always been a career oriented woman who dresses up in western attire and doesn’t carry a dupatta. Sad how we as a society associate chastity and modesty with a piece of cloth.

Ridicule over not wearing a dupatta is not the only thing women have to face. After the dupatta debate comes the ‘East vs West’ debate. Wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt will most certainly attract criticism. Let’s not forget that we are the country where the Council of Islamic Ideology once stated that the incidence of earthquakes in the country had increased owing to the jeans wearing women of the country. Wearing jeans manages to get you stares no matter what the situation is. Quite often, wearing jeans is not acceptable for family gatherings – what will the relatives say? Haw Haye.

While jeans manage to get criticism, many articles of eastern clothing also manage to come under scrutiny. A shalwar kameez with a dupatta is the dress of a modest woman. A sleeveless shalwar kameez is the dress of a ‘bad woman’. A kameez with full length trousers is something a modest woman wears. God forbid if the woman wears capri pants, she brings shame to her entire family.

The biggest sin of all, however, is if a woman’s bra strap ever shows in public. God forbid if you happen to be a woman whose bra strap shows, you will get hushed whispers from all other women around you. Hushed whispers and smirks. Some women may even be generous enough to tug at your shirt to protect your modesty. It disgusts me to know that we live in a society where men feel uncomfortable at seeing a mere bra strap.

We live in a society with preposterous standards. Where a woman needs to constantly feel uncomfortable with what she is wearing. Where other women will talk behind your back and brand you with labels no woman should ever have to live with. We live in a sad society where a minister had the audacity to say in a speech that a woman adorning a headscarf is, in some way, better than a woman who chooses not to wear one. The only reason the minister even thought of making such an absurd statement is because like you and me, he too understands what’s popular in our society. Before we criticize him, we need to criticize ourselves for we have all in one way or another discriminated against a woman based on her attire.