torightleft

Public parks: where the outside is also the inside

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I spent a lot of time in Lahori parks in the summer of 2012. The wonderfully manicured gardens, lush collection of trees, tropical blooms in pinks and yellows, velvety oranges and purple of the jacaranda all hold a special place in my memory.

When I think of parks I think of nature and of freedom, not of confinement.

053

But this 2012 announcement from The Express Tribune requires I make a link between material structures and the regulation of women’s bodies in the present. What’s discussed in the article above may seem like a stretch from the story of Anarkali but it too references encasement, that of a different kind than immuration.

The Express Tribune article details plans for the construction of several “women’s only” parks in urban centres of Pakistan, to be constructed by 2013. “The parks will have walls and grills up to seven feet high” so women may be able to “exercise out of sight of male oglers.” In the blog post “Structures that bind” I talk about women’s bodies being policed and their voices silenced, possibly forever. In 2012, if a state official allots X amount of rupees to provide precisely a space for women to have a voice, and a space where they can walk, exercise and commune with nature in peace then what is objectionable in it?

What’s objectionable is that hilariously enough the plan proposes a chaar diwari (four walls) structure lifted out of the home and installed into a park. This kind of encasement won’t teach anyone respect for women in Pakistani society. Mythic heroines under powerful men had no say in matters of life or death but at least some, if not all women in present day Pakistan should be able to participate in the civic life of the country by raising their voices in this case. We should be asking why is it okay for women to be shut away from where real life is happening? Whether in Empire or in a more ordinary setting? Why should women be forced to accept this status quo?

The creation of such a segregated space constricts movement so that freedom may be allotted to women only in designated spaces. Thereby in various other spaces women can still be state sanctioned second class citizens open to the whims of a male gaze, a cat call, verbal or physical abuse. One can argue that my reaction is a borrowing from Western feminism which cannot simply be lifted and applied to Pakistani society. Local women might prefer a “women’s only” park over a park where they may be harassed or god forbid “looked at.” But I think parks such as these are a silencing of women’s bodies out of the public domain proper. They allow for the continued treatment of women as precious.

As per the article it’s nice to see female security guards are to be employed in the park. But in a country where a woman is foremost a sexual object my hunch is that this opportunity came about so that park-going women are not subject to harassment at the hands of male security guards. Of course everything I talked about is not so simple in a non-secular society. Many schools and colleges have been and continue to be male only or female only institutions. Further, for a country plagued with other serious issues involving sectarian violence, terrorism, extreme poverty and energy crises, acceptance of a woman’s complete personhood is just one more issue to contend with.

164

There may be more to say once the parks materialise. Also, I don’t live in Lahore on a permanent basis. Would my opinion be different if I lived there permanently? Perhaps. What do you think of the proposed parks?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: