Dear Angelina Jolie…

Angelina in Pakistan – ‘dressed accordingly’ (Sept 8, 2010)

Okay, I know I’m going to get flak for this from Angelina lovers and those who may not get my point, but I think it’s an important point to make. It has nothing to do with floods or flood relief, but everything to do with Pakistan’s image, especially pertaining to women. So here goes… Something I wrote a few days ago:

Dear Angelina Jolie

Hello from Karachi. I truly admire your work, your compassion, your raising awareness about those less fortunate, around the world. It’s wonderful that you were able to come to Pakistan again and meet with the flood victims. Your voice will go a long way towards bringing their plight to front stage, where it needs to be.

What I say next should not be taken personally. I am speaking as a woman who lives in one of the most misunderstood and maligned nations of the world. We, the women of Pakistan, have had to fight long and hard for our rights – and we continue to do so. One of the fights we are still fighting is the right to dress as we choose.

Angelina Jolie with interpreter visiting a family displaced by floods at the Afghan Resettlement Camp on the outskirts of Islamabad.—AFP photo

Most of us stay within the widely accepted cultural constraints. This means dressing modestly but by no means draping voluminous chaddars or dupattas over our heads at all times. This (diversity of dress) is not an issue for rural women, such as the flood victims you met. Most wear traditional clothes – kurta (long tunic) over a shalwar (baggy trousers), with a dupatta (large scarf) covering their heads and bosoms. They often cover their faces before outsiders.

In the cities, there is more variety. Women in public wear kurtas over jeans, over shalwars, over loose or skinny trousers. Some wear t-shirts or other western-style shirts. Many don’t always don a dupatta, even in public. That’s acceptable too. We’d like to keep it that way. (A good background read here would be an essay in the monthly magazine Newsline some time back titled Will the Real Pakistani Woman Please Stand up, by the award winning journalist Shimaila Matri Dawood)

Why women’s attire is a political issue has to do with how religion has been misused for political purposes in Pakistan.

Police beat up women protesting against Gen. Zia’s ‘Law of Evidence’, Lahore, 1983. Photo by Rahat Dar

Women’s clothing became a political issue here during the dark years of Gen. Ziaul Haq, who used Islam as a tool for political purposes. His media policy getting Pakistan Television (the only TV channel at the time) to ensure that women on screen covered their heads at all times (even during TV dramas when sleeping or drowning or whatever. There were other bizarre rules so that viewers wouldn’t get the ‘wrong idea’, like men and women having to leave the screen from different exits and ensuring someone else was on screen in case of unmarried couples. I know, crazy. But we’ve lived through all this and more. Here’s something I wrote last year about the repercussions of such policies, ‘Ongoing struggle’).

One television news anchor resigned rather than comply. Some actresses refused to take on roles in which they had to wear dupattas unnecessarily. Not because they were against women covering their heads if they chose, but in protest at their apparel being dictated to.

You may have guessed by now how this relates to you. When you came to Pakistan to raise awareness for flood relief, we saw you covered in a voluminous black dupatta. This makes sense when you are out in the field, where all the women have their heads covered. Understandably, you want to fit in and make them feel at ease. But I wondered why you felt the need to have your head covered at a press conference on Sept 7 (the one you wore on the following day, Sept 8, was less heavy).

Women at a demonstration in Karachi, 2006, against Zia’s Hudood laws. Photo: Anjum Naveed

If you feel the need to cover up, that is your prerogative and right. Why it bothers me though is because it is an indicator of how the world sees us. Your head covering at the press conference reflected the assumption that Pakistani women in public spaces are or should be covered up like this. This is one of the fights we are fighting.

Here’s the caption to a photos of you with women flood victims: “Angelina dressed accordingly to meet with people who are affected by the damage….”

Dressed accordingly. Many people admire you for ‘respecting our culture’ as they put it – even if they themselves hardly ever dress like that.

Our late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto also began covering up (and carrying prayer beads) after she entered politics. Many women felt betrayed who had fought against Gen. Zia’s media policies that allowed women to be visible in the public sphere only if they conformed to certain norms, defined by the conservative lobby.

Benazir felt the need to be accepted by that conservative lobby. But you’re not a politician. You’re an actress. The world has seen you in very different, far more revealing attire in your movies, and in photographs. We appreciate that you respect our culture and dress ‘accordingly’ when you are here, but I just wanted you to be aware that you really don’t need to be quite so draped up, and especially not during press conferences. There are many women journalists in Pakistan out in the field, working alongside men. Most don’t conform to the most conservative stereotypes.

It was nice to see you with our prime minister the following day, looking ‘regular’.

Thanks for listening.

Beena Sarwar

54 Responses

  1. A well made point.


  2. An excellent letter. Let me start by saying that I am one of the Brangelinists,but that doesnt make me biased about the facts you stated.
    I myself was rather annoyed. When Angelina Jolie who has done ‘really really’ bold scenes in her movies and has been an epitome of Radical approach towards her female sexuality drapes herself in a 7 meter or so chadr…what message is she giving? She is unconsciously,in her attempt to everybody at ease, pandering to the emotions and nonsensical assumptions (”that is how a woman ought to dress,see,even that shameless actress did it!” , ”See the superiority of our women and their shame/honor dichotomy?”).
    I was rather disappointed about the press conference thing to be honest.
    Lastly ,DO send this letter to Angelina. I mean it. You should give it a try atleast. In fact you have inspired ME too,to write a letter :).
    Whatcha say?


    • This really wasn’t meant to be personal about her. Would be very interested to see your letter. I have no idea how to get mine across to her. If you figure it out, let me know 🙂


      • Dear Beena,
        I did not mean to sound personal on Angelina. Sorry if I did.
        I will definitely try my head off to find if there is a way to get this letter to Angelina. But then again,all we can do is try our best. I mean who knows if her agent does not use this letter to blow her flu into. Lol.
        That being said, thanks again for this wonderful piece.
        I believe instead of chicken feminism,Pakistan needs Radical feminism. It’s time to let them know women have more things to worry about than what part of their body is going to cause them to be raped by lustful men, who are never brought to pay for what they did, simply because its a woman’s ‘fault’ that she showed off her skin. Preposterous!!! No?


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by beena sarwar and beena sarwar, Ayesha Faisal. Ayesha Faisal said: RT @beenasarwar: Dear Anjelina Jolie… […]


  4. Beena,

    A very pertinent point, and very well made too. This one of the reasons why I never trusted Benazir, and all other women politicians apart from Sherry Rehman, who never covered her head in public. Like you said, I have no issues with women covering their heads if they do so in their private lives too. But those who don’t, like Benazir did in private or Marvi Memon, when they do it, for me it is a sell-out, an appeasing act. It is a clear manifestation of double-standards and breeds mistrusts. As for Angelina, giving her the benefit f the doubt, as she must have thought it is the regular cultural practice after seeing Benazir and now her daughters who also cover her head when they appear publicly in Pakistan. I am glad that you brought this up to correct the misconception. Hooe it reaches her and she acts on your rather sensible advice next time.
    Talking to local women politicans and Benazir’s daughters is futile. They are all opportunists.


    • Benazir not only showed rank opportunism in covering her head with chaadar but she made an epic perversion of the dynastic culture by adopting the dynastic name, Bhutto, of her father than that of Zardari, her husband. As for as I know she never called herself ‘Mrs Zardari’ but was always known as ‘Ms Bhutto’.

      An interesting episode occurred once during a live interview of the couple, Zardari and Ms Bhutto on the TV , when the interviewer, a lady journalist, from America, perhaps, after finishing with Ms Bhutto, turned to Zardari, and addressed him as ‘Mr. Bhutto’. But unashamedly he said,’No, I am not Bhutto but Zardari”. The interviewer, however, did not budge and questioned him,”Are you not the husband of Ms Bhutto”. As far as I remeber, Zardari had no answer to this question, except a peevish smile.

      There is no wonder why people who take note of her head-cover did not ever point out this height of opportunism of Ms Bhtoo ‘Shaheed’ involving a basic violation of culture falsifying the real relationship of husband and wife.


      • My guess is that men did not consider it worthy of noting because apparently the very marriage of Benazir with Zardari was based on political opportunism like all feudal marriages and the women were perhaps happy on her male bashing by her rejection of her husband’s lineage. In fact this is new ‘Khappay’ culture with no hold on opportunism.


  5. Well said, dear! I wonder whom Anjelina was trying to please by her heavy head cover. It may be, as you said, just to fit in and make the flood-affectees, whom she had come to help, feel at ease. But, I am afraid, it gave a more sinister signal of her capitulation to Talibani terror, which the West has started showing in a number of ways lately. In any case, this is likely to create a very depressing perception indeed for the liberals of Pakistan and especially the women who are fighting for their empowerment.


  6. […] This cup of tea was served by: Journeys to democracy […]


  7. Dear Beena
    Thanks for this – I really think it was much needed. We have all struggled many long years to find space where we can have the right to dress the way we choose and it is extremely upsetting to see sensible women cover themselves in this way. Yes I agree with you and with Mohsin that this seems to be such a sell out- more so when we find our own women doing this. I always resented the fact that Benazir had started covering her head – the hypocrisy in it is so evident! However I think you have put it across very well.


  8. A great job. You actually voiced my thoughts of Jolie’s effort to dress “accordingly” .. Cheers.


  9. Interesting comments and response to Angelina. I hope we can someday get beyond the wrapping to the gift that each woman and man, regardless of dress, brings to the table. Life is so short.


  10. While Angelina’s role was crucial is raising international awareness, it was equally crucial that she gave some kind of hope to hurting and hungry survivors. Were she dressed in jeans etc., these village people might have had a reluctance to communicate or even worse, they would have been too “fascinated” to speak. My brother was going to the northern areas to help out flood victims, and the people there were getting cultural shocks from his jeans, backpack, digital camera etc. Generally, when you go to visit the sick, you do everything to make them comfortable. I would agree with you if this were the case in urban areas.


  11. Great writeup, but I dont see how this is an issue. if she hadn’t done it, there would have been a million complains now she tries to respect a tradition in front of the people she is around and someone is complaining. I don’t think this is a time where Angelina’s covering her hair with a dupatta will make the govt impose on us. I thought she looked beautiful and that’s that about it. There shouldn’t be a complaint. She is the one that has to get respect of the people around her. You can see Benazir Bhutto and other Muslim women leaders (most of them; at least all the important ones) wearing dupattas at all time in their official meetings and press conferences.
    I don’t understand why should we be complaining all the time about everything.
    She has done what no one else has. She has given her own money; diverted attention of millions and is actively involved in getting more people to help. And some of us are complaining that she has put our freedom to dress at risk … sounds like a big non-issue to me. Think of the people who are dying right now. We, the Pakistanis are facing survival issues and we are talking about how someone who is doing the best in her capacity without anything to take back should dress because it tells something about us. Sorry, but … I’m really sorry … and I would personally apologize to Angelina Jolie if I could about this nonsense. She deserves better than our bitchiness. We just love making up issues!!!


    • Hey, nowhere was I ‘bitchy’ nor did I make any personal attacks on her. I appreciate her contribution and I don’t intend to make her way of dressing an issue – only used it to make a point about the image and identity of Pakistani women.


  12. Thanks for writing this. Well said!


  13. I am filmmaker from India and therefore just a bystander and not really in the situation. However, I want to say this – it’s funny when something like this happens, women immediately feel and notice the glaring fact that when Angelina Jolie covers her head she’s actually forcing other women to do the same. This is because it is the women who have to end up covering their heads. Most men on the other hand will look at Angelina Jolie and think – “what a lovely modern woman and still bowing to our tradition”, this is because they will never have to cover their heads.
    Perhaps this is the chasm in the sub-continent, women are sensitised and men are threatened….
    On a more flippant note lets get Brad Pitt to come with a chaddar on his head – wonder how that will go down? Very well written article by the way.


  14. I don’t agree Beena – if Angelina had not covered her head, she would have been criticized for that too: damned if she does AND damned if she doesn’t.


    • I wasn’t criticising her. Just an observation about her choice of dress, which indicates what the world thinks of Pakistan and reinforces the stereotype.


  15. What rubbish… the thing about most Pakistanis including this writer, is they always have something negative to pull out of a hat. This was not at all necessary… write a letter to her directly, rather than post something on a public forum. Your nothing better than an ambulance chaser.


  16. I agree with Natasha, and your response, poor. The world thinks that Pakistan is a backward country, poor, always looking for a helping hand, breeds terror, and has a diminisnghing middle class… oh and yes, the world also thinks that women dress modestly… which is the truth, except those partying on the weekends behind armed guards, barbed fences and high walls (in their superficial bubble). So what wrong with Angelina covering up to show her respect for the MAJORITY???????


  17. Beena,

    Even the dress she was wearing when meeting the PM wasn’t what she would wear normally. She was dressed conservatively, according to what she perceived her host country to require.

    Also, the majority of the women in our country do wear a dupatta on their head when out in public (you have to include rural folks in to this number, in addition to city folks)

    What she chose to wear is her choice. I might feel it to be the wrong message, but many others might applaud her. No biggie. I am sure she has a pretty accurate image of our country after visiting twice, and touring throughout.


  18. I definitely gained some insight regarding women’s rights in Pakistan from your perspective here, but I think it’s only part of the picture. I’d like share a differing perspective coming from my privileged Pakistani-American view point. I understand I can’t relate to your struggle, but I know my own struggles as a POC (person of color) female in the States and often cultural appropriation is a topic of discussion especially with development work.

    My perspective was actually the opposite. Jolie came to Pakistan at a time when there is nothing but negativity in US media regarding Pakistan.

    I’m sure her attire has more to do with safety/liability requirements by the UN, her genuine appeal to humanize Pakistanis as well as the fact that someone probably picked her clothes out for her. Her outfit is pretty consistent with her demeanor in her numerous visits to Pakistan. She is a mega-superstar actress known all over the world, obviously she could have worn whatever she wanted. But just as Pakistan women are multi-faceted so should we allow her to be, as a woman, America, actress, humanitarian, mother.

    That said I’m in solidarity with your fight for your rights. I just think human rights at this point are in most need of attention and people in Pakistan and EVERYWHERE should do what they can to help in relief efforts.

    Feminist rights are privileged to those who have equal human rights, basic rights (and access) to food, water, shelter. I think much work needs to be done in Pakistan to strengthen basic infrastructure to allow everyone to work first towards these basic rights for everyone in order to allow the greater work that needs to be done for women and minorities in Pakistan.

    love and peace.


  19. “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all [other] believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more con­ducive to their being recognized [as decent women] and not annoyed. [74] But [withal,] God is indeed much- forgiving, a dispenser of grace!”
    ( سورة الأحزاب , Al-Ahzab, Chapter #33, Verse #59)

    -Call it what you will, but this isn’t the feminist movement. Although, everyone does have a choice!


  20. I think the author has a point- not necessarily that Angelina’s choice of dress would regress the fight for personal freedom that Pakistani women have fought for, but simply that Angelina brings with her an international focus that could have been used to highlight the Pakistani culture, instead of the Pakistani religion, which everyone really knows and doesn’t need highlighting. For example, if she had worn a traditional dress, or a colorful chador, or something highlighting the many many rich choices Pakistani women have, that might have gone across better in a press conference. When she was visiting the flood victims, however, somber dress is almost a job requirement- she was visiting the sick, hungry, tired and poor.
    Regardless, I think it’s a valid point and should be brought to her attention, not as criticism but as a helpful tip for the next time she is in Pakistan.


  21. My knee-jerk reaction was that this kind of criticism is really not necessary. After all Jolie was in Pakistan for a very different purpose and probably was not even aware of the other issues you bring up. Reading your article was illuminating. Certainly, when Jolie comes to Pakistan next may be she would take on these issues as well. But, for now, accept her gesture on face value — she covered her head as she did not want to take any chances of offending anybody. Having said that, I would definitely make sure she gets the article and that the article gets more exposure.


    • Thanks. I suspect she was advised by her handlers and they were being over-cautious (as handlers tend to be). Plus she’s an actress, and there’s an element of drama involved in draping up like that which she may have enjoyed.


  22. Can we stop caring about western celebrities? They don’t have to live on the subcontinent, we do. Also, they don’t know what we know. Those of us who know the subcontinent intimately, know all the nuances of regional history and the culture(s) that emerged as a result. When I traveled in Turkey and Egypt, I recognized in my own Bengali culture, the remnants of ritual and tradition that must have come from there through Islam. And yes, I also recognize the European rationalist influences that prompted us to examine and understand our ancient texts. Let’s remember that every country and culture has its own corruption and dysfunction. They can’t solve ours like we can’t solve theirs. Even though the colonizers come with the best of intentions, let’s try not to be colonized all over again. And in that effort we need our men as allies, not adversaries. If you detect some disconnect between what I just said and my last (married) name, I will only say this in my defense, that I respected my father, grandfathers and male cousins and colleagues as much as I respect my American husband–and the respect was mutual.


  23. Sobia, on September 14, quoted a verse of the Quran which says:

    “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all [other] believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more con­ducive to their being recognized [as decent women] and not annoyed. [74] But [withal,] God is indeed much- forgiving, a dispenser of grace!”
    ( سورة الأحزاب , Al-Ahzab, Chapter #33, Verse #59)”

    and said: “Call it what you will, but this isn’t the feminist movement. Although, everyone does have a choice!”

    The above post of Sobia may open up a Pandora’s Box to give rise to a new discussion as to who is a decent woman and who indecent and whether it is a matter of dress only. It is also debatable point whether it does not give a license to men (believers, perhaps) to annoy those who are not, according to them, decently dressed, irrespective of the fact whether they are believers or non-believers.

    I think it is better to confine the discussion to the point raised by Beena, as to what was the intention of Anjelina to dress her up while visiting flood affectees and what could be its effect on the feminist movement for freedom and empowerment in Pakistan.


    • A positive observation which I made was that the interpreter wasn’t covering her head while Angelina was. The point I really want to see addressed is the qualification of Angelina to be making statements, either directly or indirectly. To what extent is her presence relevant in discussions about the progress of a country needs to be analyzed. For it isn’t clear as to what authority does she represent? Should she be seen as someone with any such capacity to make examples of any kind? Is her critique valuable? In the end, who is she with respect to this particular issue of head-covering? From my point of view, her irrelevancy is displayed by the fact that the outcome of this feminist revolution in Pakistan is central to Pakistan primarily and does not even remotely begin to impact Angelina personally.
      Why is she, at all, considered so crucially in this important cause is baffling to the point of disappointing?


  24. Very good letter addressed to Westeners… They do not know or they do not want to know that how we muslims are ourselves fed up with the notion of conservatism and how innocent Mulsims majority has been blackmailed by extremist Islamic clergy… This is neither Islam and nor our culture.

    Instead of promoting and encouraging liberalism, samething was done by Benazir by wearing Dupatta over the head and carrying ‘Tasbi’ in her hand…


  25. At first I didn’t get your point and I disagreed. After reading through, I think you nailed it. But in a way don’t you think Pakistan is like THE FIELD for Angelina as rural areas are for us?


    • Certainly, Pakistan may be ‘the field’ for AJ… but as I said in a response above. I suspect she was advised by her handlers and they were being over-cautious (as handlers tend to be). Plus she’s an actress, and there’s an element of drama involved in draping up like that which she may have enjoyed. Bottom line for me is that when I saw her like that I had a certain response, that I mulled over, then wrote down. Sat on it for a few days, mulled again, and then posted because I felt i had to say it.


  26. Hi Beena:

    Your article made an extremely useful point. The non-recognition of the diversity of women’s clothing by the western media in relation to Pakistan as well as the struggle not to be dictated to by a conservative lobby makes the issue of women’s clothing a doubly politicised issue. Thanks for illuminating this issue in the context of Karachi/Pakistan. And, I think the important thing is to highlight women’s struggles which is often not discussed at all in any geopolitical discussion. I hope to use your article as a teaching resource.


  27. My question really is about what is the point of mentioning that Pakistan is one of the most misunderstood and maligned nation? It strikes me as a very egoistic viewpoint and as a sweeping generalization that implicitly tries to suggest that what the world knows about Pakistan is false. That it can’t be the case that most information about Pakistan known to the world is even possibly true and that you are in some sort of a privileged position to have the absolute true information about what Pakistan really is about. What it really amounts to, in my view, is re-affirming the traditional victim-mentality adopted by people who do not want to take the responsibility for resolving problems generated by a community they identify with. That instead of skirting them beneath the bed, so-to-speak, they ought to, I feel, possess the forthrightness to initially even accept that there are mistakes.
    And what particularly befuddles me while reading your article is the fact that within its body you are actually trying to uproot some traditional irrationalities persistent in modern Pakistani culture – that you are, in fact, attempting to fund a revolution. But you do so after prefacing your revolution by extending another, equally, irrational tradition.


  28. Angelina in Pakistan and Beena in USA

    Beena Sarwar and supporters,

    I am not a fan of Angelina or unable to comprehend your point of view. meanwhile—–

    I stoutly endorse your zest and commitment to womens’development, and fully support you when you talk about women’s rights to liberty and happiness. Zia’s despicable era carries the odious legacy of contrived Hadood, a blotch on Islamic jurisprudence, but this present inept and corrupt dispensation shoved 18th amendment down the ulcerating constitution without so much as whimpering about the tyrant’s Hudood Ord. Did you raise a ruckus? Yet these thugs manipulated 18th amendment ruse with embellishments to make politics hereditary and unjust and morally illegal reprieve for political and bureaucratic criminals from crimes committed and inexorably to save PM’s wife’s massive default.

    Now back to the issue of women’s liberation. Did that cause you equal consternation at the covering of head or not? You also have every reason to censor hyper hypocrisy of Benazir (No a martyr by flimsiest logic) and her political façade of head cover, beads and bed-sheets over mazars and supplication to Pirs; all to fool the ignorant. So, I am with you thus far and strong supporter of women’s freedom, but to borrow and paraphrase your preamble for Jolie “What I say next should not be taken personally. I understand where you are coming from and am speaking as much a passionate liberal Pakistani who lives in one of the most misunderstood and maligned nations of the world. Inextricably, we have earned the dubious distinction because of our immoral and pathologically corrupt leaders, mostly supplanted by the West to do their bidding, while they plunder Pakistan. That is why the human dignity threshold is below animals. We blame every one and every thing except our own selves.

    I am not unduly surprised at the threshold of upper cerebral spurting out from proposed letter to Angelina, least from cavaliers comments evinced in your support, scoring brownie points. But surely for a consummate intellectual like you, women’s struggle for freedom ideals and agenda must go beyond bare or covered head, short or long hem, sleeveless or mini-sleeves, and least of all get provoked by why a super star covered her head while in the most male chauvinist male zone in the world. You should not even limit women’s struggle to political rights, freedom of expression and civil liberties what to talk of mere freedom to dress. Its REMIT must go well beyond—dignity in life and education, health and so on. So why has Jolie’s wearing a black chador provoked such a storm in your tea cup? Why could a women from the firmament of super high universal profile not dress the way she thought it safe, unprovocative and to be in her comfort zone.

    Just as women here want their freedom to dress the way that makes them feel good (we are talking about 10-20 % women who have the means and audacity to make the choice of how they dress, there are bigger issues for them), why could Angelina not have the same liberty to dress as she thought it fit. She was not in hot-pants or inappropriately dressed to be ostracised and condemned. If she wore a six or seven yards Chador, so be it. Besides, are you unmindful of the way Pakistani men, especially the NW, now (KP) specie ogle at women irrespective of how you are dressed, their shape, age or size? The machismo of Pakistani male society when they stares at every women outside their homes is so obscene that any male member of the family could be provoked to knock them on his frontals. Why then someone who is declared internationally as the most beautiful woman in the world could not protect her modesty and life by dressing as she or her handlers, as you say, thought it appropriate? I strongly feel that she should have been in the same black Chador when she was compelled to meet YOUR Prez (The Sara Paulin reprehensible display represented the male chauvinism of Pakistani male).

    Also, and especially when the non-stop hyperboling PM had a photo shoot with his family who especially flew in a private plane for the photo-ops with a women who had come to share the grief of the victims of deluge and parted with a huge sum in dollars. Neither your Prez or PM or the thugs with false degrees and fat coffers would even dream of parting with that amount in rupees. That should have been a point of contention for you to exhort and debated as to why Angelina condescended to go through the ordeal with cabal especially zipping in from Lahore at a heavy cost to the country with the biggest begging bowl in hand and in midst of a calamity of colossal magnitude. The question or controversary ought have been about the despicable fact that 40 cases of shopping at Harrods in London by the PM’s wife (Does she have any truck with women’s freedom issues? I bet not, as long as her shopping has no limit!) arrived by PIA about the time Angelina was snugly sitting wrapped in a chador (Seven yards as claimed by one the critics above) with the victims of the deluge and doling out from her pocket, if you know, a million dollars, to alleviate the suffering of those she had flown across the Atlantic to share their desolation!!! Her seven yard chador provoked no one until you decided to make an issue out of totally non-sequitur issue, unworthy of your stature as a journalist. In all fairness the women intelligentsia of Pakistan should have been happy that one of their genders did the generous thing, even as a UN appointee. Nothing personal Beena.

    sajad Haider


    • Thanks for your comments.

      Just for the record, many of us spoke out against Zia’s Hudood Ordinances when he imposed them (we demonstrated on the streets, held awareness raising meetings in different localities, wrote about it, spoke about it), and have continued opposing them through the decades.

      Secondly, I was not criticising Jolie, only using her attire to make a point about the image of Pakistan in the west – an image that Zia tried to first impose on us and which has endured thanks to the consistent use of religion for politics.


  29. Dear Beena

    I do not see my latest comment submitted yesterday. In case you do not consider it fit to be posted on your blog please return it to me.


  30. I am very sorry for my post above as I later on found my comment duly recorded at its proper place. Thank you dear.


  31. Beena,
    You have been great as ever. See my comments on your CHOWK article too.


  32. Thank you Beena for posting my comments.


  33. A very interesting discussion is going on, which had started on apparently a trivial topic of the Jolie’s head-cover, but has become rather too serious now.

    In a lighter vein; Jo’s picture with a heavy black chadar on with a somber face reminds me my marhoomah Nani Jan. I wonder what a difference this head cover makes among western and eastern women and why the eastern women could/did not adopt the western dress especially even when living in the west. I could see only one Pakistani woman on Heathrow Airport in London wearing skirt to which a Sikh employee of the Airport pointed out, especially telling me that she was from your Gujrat. But she might have just been obliged to wear that dress as an employee of the Airport.

    Why not beena writes a full-fledged article on the topic, especially when the question of propriety of the female dress has become so important in geopolitical scenario with Jo’s chadar.


  34. This is amazing! our country is pretty much destroyed and all we can talk about is how Angelina was dressed and how outraged we are at her presenting this image of Pakistan to the world. Believe me, whatever she wore would not change the image ppl have of Pakistan. We all should be ashamed of ourselves- an outsider comes all the way here, knowing the dangers of it (she did star in “A mighty Heart” after all) and helps us (something many of us haven’t bothered to do and we are angry at what she wore?? How shallow and sad. If this is the way we think, then I guess maybe we deserve to be where we are right now—seriously—the way she is DRESSED??? get real! who cares? Remember that we have much bigger things to worry about. I think that is why God is trying to get rid of us by sending one calamity after the other upon us!


    • Err, that’s not ‘all’ we can talk about. If you just look at the contents of this blog, you’ll see a lot of other things being talked about, and in fact Jolie’s attire is discussed in the context of one of those issues (women’s rights, Pakistan’s ‘image’, etc)


    • This is what I had feared would be the result of the hype given to the calamity both my the government and the media – people have started pitying us. Of course, we welcome, sympathy and are thankful to those who helped us in this hour of need but it does not mean that we may start self-pitying and stop laughing even. I wonder how SK perceived that we were angry at the way Jolie dressed. We have been discussing only in a lighter vein the fallout of her dress on our society in the background of the importance of the head-cover of our women.

      Mind dear, we are not beggars but are unfortunately being ruled by ‘money-grabbers’ who are as they say, ‘Merchants of Misery’.


  35. i am not totally agreed with your article… but last paragraph is quite relevant.. if someone is covering her head by scarf, then there is no harm in hit… this is some what our culture and not the girls wandering in malls wearing skinny jeans and sleeveless tops… its good to wear what is decent and reflect the simplicity which is a core point in our religion.. i am unable to understand this sentence… “This makes sense when you are out in the field, where all the women have their heads covered. Understandably, you want to fit in and make them feel at ease”…sorry to say “completely insane”… one should dress accordingly wherever she goes either flood areas or any glamorous party…




    SO WHAT IF SHE DRESSES DIFFERENTLY IN HER MOVIES, AND OUTSIDE OF PAKISTAN??? IN CASE YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN, PAKISTAN IS A MUSLIM COUNTRY, AND SHE HAS GIVEN US AND MORE PARTICULARLY THE PEOPLE SHE VISITED RESPECT, BY NOT DRESSING IN A SCANDALOUS MANNER. The poor flood affectees would have collapsed if she turned up in a dress, and i’m touched by the fact the she wanted to wear something that would help her blend in, and make the affectees feel comfortable.

    it’s articles like this, and opinions like yours that make me ashamed to be a pakistani woman. I HOPE THE MEDIA REALIZES THAT WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE YOU.


  37. Angelina Jolie’s appearance in Pakistan was for a cause — a noble cause. She tried to maximize focus on her charitable cause whilke minimizing her own profile. Her dress was appropriate under the circumstances.


  38. I guess Ms. Jolie was between the proverbial rock and a very hard place… and she made her decision accordingly.

    I see a number of references to the obnoxious Hudood laws… and how Ms. Bhutto did a great disservice by not repealing them or passing yet another law against them. I understand… if she had done that… everything would have been hunky dory… and the land of the pure would have been just 3 inches short of paradise.

    Hmmm. Using the same premise… why don’t these armchair experts petition the highest court in the land of the pure to pass a law… banning the river Indus from flooding.


  39. Beena, thanks for this article.

    I returned to it again after becoming annoyed when a minor celebrity in the UK recently converted to Islam and has been all over the TV with a lacklustre scarf over her head that reveals a good amount of her salon-highlighted hair for her to show it off, but is present enough to be a signifier of her religion. I’m a white European and have visited Karachi and Lahore a few times, (urban areas admittedly). I only cover my head in mosques or markets, when I’m under a strong midday sun or when I have to get around on my own. When I occasionally put on a salwar kameez I just feel like I’m dressing up. I feel strangely like I’m mocking the dress with my cursory application of its codes. I also find that that a couple of the ready-made suits I’ve bought online have come with that zip up the back that makes them some of the most figure-hugging garments I own!!

    People would still notice the ‘gori larki’ whether she was in jeans or a salwar kameez. I find it makes little difference to my experience as a foreign woman, or how people treat me in Pakistani cities, which in relation to other places I’ve visited in the world, is generally very good.

    I was also annoyed that Angelina had to wear the scarf for the press conference and what it said about Pakistan, but I can also see why she did so when she was outside.

    When women here in the UK bring up issues of gender we often get told that “women elsewhere have it so much worse! stop griping about the situation in the UK, you’re lucky!” That may be the case, but there are problems here that still need to be discussed. If we listen to such comments we could easily become convinced that there’s no good time to talk about women’s rights anywhere, because there will always be a ‘bigger problem’. Yet wherever you are, stratifications of society based on class and gender only make the apparently bigger (or more obvious) problems worse and should ALWAYS be considered, however tangential they at first appear.

    We might be led to think that there’s never a good time to bring up these issues, but really, there should never be a BAD time to have the conversation. So thank you for this useful article and the revealing thread it’s inspired.


    • Thank you so much for your comments and feedback. You’re right about people noticing the ‘gori larki’ no matter how she’s dressed. And that actually applies to us urban, educated, more well-to-do women when we go into rural areas or even low income areas.


  40. […] Dear Angelina Jolie – “Hello from Karachi…One of the fights we are still fighting is the right to […]


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