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Pakistani University's Lipstick Ban Sparks Backlash

"Female students are not allowed to put on lipstick."

That was the order issued to female students at a university in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

"If seen, they will be fined at the spot," said the notice issued by the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, adding that students would be penalized 100 rupees ($0.65) for each violation.

Issued on January 21, the notice sparked outrage, with social-media users, students, and rights activists saying it infringes on students' rights. On social media, activists condemned it as another curb on women's rights in the deeply religious and conservative region.

Possibly due to the brouhaha it caused, the order was revoked on January 27 by the university, whose main campus is in Muzaffarabad.

But the temporary ban was just the latest attempt to enforce Islamic dress codes at schools and universities in Pakistan and Kashmir, which are predominantly Muslim.

'Regressive Actions'

A teacher at the university, who did not want to be named, told RFE/RL that administrators took the step following complaints of vulgar graffiti written in lipstick in classrooms and in the women's bathrooms.

Photos sent to RFE/RL by the teacher showed smudged graffiti. The authenticity of the photos could not be verified.

Attempts by the university to explain the ban failed to prevent a barrage of criticism.

"Is this for real?" asked Pakistani Senator Sherry Rehman, adding, "Doesn't the university board have better things to focus their time and energy to?"

Aurat March, a collective of women's rights groups, said that "Such regressive actions by institutions that should be bastions of freedom is alarming and violate fundamental rights of students!"

Ashgar Hayat, a reporter at Pakistan's GNN TV network, called the ban "extremely ridiculous." "Instead of providing quality education to our youth, [the] administration is putting [a] ban on lipstick."

Ali Kashmiri, a human rights activist, said the move was "another attack on freedom of choice."

Hijab Controversy

The temporary lipstick ban was the latest controversy surrounding schools and universities in Pakistan, where some institutions have attempted to segregate female students and impose a strict dress code for women.

In September, authorities in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province issued orders making it compulsory for schoolgirls in two cities to wear garments covering their heads.

Students at a community school in Peshawar
Students at a community school in Peshawar

District education officials in the provincial capital, Peshawar, issued a circular directing the heads of government girls schools to "instruct all students to wear the gown/chador to veil/conceal/cover up themselves in order to protect them from any unethical incident."

"The matter may be treated as most urgent and important," it added.

The district education department in the city of Haripur, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, had previously issued a similar directive.

The moves sparked a backlash on social media, with activists condemning them as yet another curb on women's rights.

But once again, following a nationwide uproar, authorities reversed the orders.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2012, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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    Daud Khattak

    Daud Khattak is a senior editor for RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

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