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For Pakistani women in this KP town, access to open spaces is no walk in the park

Local clerics, along with hundreds of students, lawyers and even journalists, stormed the park on Sunday demanding that women be stopped from enjoying the facility.

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An innocuous family park in a city in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan is fast becoming a rallying point for protest against misogyny after a section of local people demanded that women be banned from using it. The bizarre turn of events has caught the attention of celebrities and women’s rights activists who have called the protesters a “real threat to society”.

Local clerics, along with hundreds of students, lawyers and even journalists, stormed the park on Sunday demanding that women be stopped from enjoying the facility, failing which it should be closed. The authorities at Bannu city decided it was best to lock the gates to everyone on Tuesday.

Actress Ayesha Omar condemned the incident on social media, saying, “Kill all Joy. Close everything. Don’t breathe and don’t you dare go out in the sun. Why are we even alive?”

Model Amna Ilyas has also lent her voice. “Women visiting parks to breathe fresh air or go for walks is considered obscene?” she said. She called for the men to be banned from entering the park instead.

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What sparked the protests 

The protests occurred after thousands of couples visited the park on 14 August, which protesters claim goes against local traditions of Pashtun culture and the teachings of Islam. They said such outings by women promote vulgarity and obscenity.

Among those who called for the park to be closed were Bannu tehsil council chairman Irfan Khan Durrani and Maulana Ezazullah Haqqani, saying women visiting recreational places was not acceptable to them.

The decision by the authorities to give in to such elements will deprive residents access to much-needed green space. The park, which had opened only a few years ago, is the only one in the city.

Maulana Ezazullah said that the youth as well as the elders in Bannu City, Kasho Pul, Link Road, and others, had launched a crusade against the obscenity, and drugs peddling. Hence, the local administration should come forward and support their initiatives.

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Growing trend 

This is not the first case where women have been restricted or harassed for visiting parks in Pakistan. Earlier this month, a man was charged in Lakki Marwat, KP, for non-consensually filming women enjoying recreational rides in the park with their children and pulling veiled women off the swing and hurling abuses at them.

Last year, TikTok influencer Ayesha Akram was allegedly sexually assaulted by a mob of over 400 men at Lahore’s Greater Iqbal Park.

Pakistan’s solution was simple, banning the entry of female TikTokers into the park. Senior officials of Punjab Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) took the decision wherein all TikTokers will have to take permission before entering Lahore’s Greater Iqbal Park in Minar-e-Pakistan.

The closure of the family park in Bannu is part of a growing trend in Pakistan where women’s rights are being curbed on the pretext of stopping ‘unethical’, ‘vulgar’ or ‘obscene’ activities.

An all-male tribal council of the Salarzai tehsil, held at the Bajaur tribal district Saturday, banned women from visiting tourist spots, emphasising that they would self-impose such restrictions if the government did not comply with their decisions. The meeting was organised by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (JUI-F), which is part of the ruling coalition at Pakistan’s centre.

Ironically, the country had criticised Afghanistan late last year for restricting women’s movement in the country. Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Hussain had said, “Saying that women can’t travel alone or go to schools and colleges — this kind of a retrogressive thinking is a threat to Pakistan”.

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