- Reversing a wrong decision is not enough
An order issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government making it mandatory for all school-going girls in government run secondary and higher secondary educational institutions to wear the veil was reversed within a day due to severe criticism. The decision was taken so that girls could ‘protect themselves’ against “unethical incidents” i.e. harassment. Acting on complaints from parents, the government, presumably without much understanding of the issue or discussion over how to go about fixing it, decided that it was in fact teenage girls attracting predators and it was their responsibility, somehow, to cover themselves up for their own good. This is dangerously similar to the absurdly regressive narrative that ‘rape victims had it coming because they were dressed provocatively’, which is a convenient way for authorities, mostly men, to trivialize the issue. Granted, KP is a relatively more conservative province than others but that certainly does not give the KP government, or for that matter any provincial or Federal government, the right to advise or dictate how someone dresses, and when it comes to children it should be the parents deciding such matters, not the state on account of its inability to punish pedophiles.
Soon after the order was issued, KP CM’s adviser on education Ziaullah Khan Bangash was out handling the fallout, unsuccessfully defending his government’s indefensible decision on various television shows. Instead of providing a plausible rationale behind the decision, he managed to make things worse by answering valid questions with accusations of ‘disrespecting the sanctity of the veil’. The PTI has made somewhat of a habit of taking decisions without proper consultation or thought, only to reverse them, creating an embarrassing situation not only for the party but also those expected to defend and implement them. A few months back instructions were issued requiring all airports to plastic-wrap all checked-in luggage. The decision had to be reversed days later when it became clear it would financially favour a particular individual. It would be wise if decisions on complex matters such as sexual harassment of schoolchildren are discussed at length with all stakeholders debating an array of ideas and choosing a multipronged strategy, as opposed to a narrow-minded one that was neither workable nor had anything to do with the issue in the first place.