Islamists ban women in ads in Pakistan metropolis. By Amir Zia
25 Jun 2003
KARACHI, June 26 (Reuters) - Islamists who head the council running Pakistan's largest city said on Thursday they had banned the unnecessary depiction of women in advertisements, calling the practice "obscene and vulgar"
Naimatullah Khan, mayor of Karachi, told Reuters the council in the metropolis of 14 million passed the law this week and planned to implement it soon.
"Our culture and values are different from the West," he said. "We want to protect women's honour. We don't want to make women toys like they are in the West."
Khan belongs to the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party, which led a similar campaign in North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan in which youths smashed billboards depicting women.
"It was on my initiative that the law was passed," Khan said. "We plan to implement it soon. We will urge the people, advertisers, not to display obscene and vulgar billboards."
Jamaat-e-Islami is the main component of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party Islamic alliance that did unexpectedly well in October general elections on the back of opposition to the government's backing for the U.S.-led "war on terror."
Since gaining control of North West Frontier in the polls, the MMA has passed a slew of hardline legislation and announced a return to sharia, or traditional Islamic law, leading critics to charge that it is trying to emulate the notorious Taliban regime overthrown in Afghanistan in 2001.
The decision by the city government is likely to trigger confrontation with the government of Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital.
Shoaib Bukhari, provincial minister for local government, said the Sindh administration would never allow the city government to destroy Karachi's image.
"It is foolish," he said referring to the new law. "They find obscenity and vulgarity in everything. It is the problem of their sick mindset. We will protect advertisers under the law."
Bukhari is a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a coalition partner of Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
Jamaat-e-Islami won local polls in Karachi in 2001 due to a boycott by the MQM, which normally dominates the city's politics.
Babar Mehmood, a director of advertising firm Orient McCann, said the new law would damage Pakistan's image overseas and could also hurt foreign investment. He said advertising standards in Pakistan were already conservative.
"There is no obscenity or vulgarity in our advertisments. The existing laws and social pressures do not allow us to go beyond a certain limit.
"If they continue to raise such issues, multinationals will not just stop putting up billboards, but also stop investment. This whole campaign is politically motivated."
There have been sporadic incidents in Karachi and other major cities in which religious militants have blacked-out billboards showing women, especially those adjacent to mosques.
Another leading advertiser said businesses and advertisers were already feeling threatened.
"Some have already stopped using women in billboards," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Saeed Ghani, a member of the city council from former premier Benazir Bhutto's opposition Pakistan People's Party, said Jamaat-e-Islami had wanted a complete ban on images of women.
"But we fought hard. Now the law bans 'unnecessary use of women in ads' and is open to debate -- it's impossible to agree whether women are needed or not."