Islamabad, Oct 7 (EFE).- Hundreds of female athletes in Pakistan’s conservative Gilgit Baltistan (GB) participated in their first-ever regional sports event amid tight security against strong opposition from conservative local clerics and religious organizations.
The three-day sporting gala, which concluded Friday, was nearly canceled after local religious leaders accused the GB government of “spreading vulgarity” by organizing the sports event for women.
However, the name of the event was changed from “GB Women’s Fair 2022” to “Women’s Meena Bazaar” (meaning ladies’ market), a day before it commenced.
All men, including officials, were barred from entering Gilgit city’s Lalak Jan stadium, the venue for the event.
GB Information Minister Fateh Ullah said more than 2,000 girls from different schools and colleges competed in seven sports disciplines, including cricket, football and hockey.
“There are no healthy activities for the girls in the area so they are facing health issues like high blood pressure and others so the games are important for them,” he underlined.
The government now plans to hold it every year, he added.
“No man could enter the stadium because it was a ‘women only’ event keeping in view the local customs,” Ullah told EFE.
The minister said women police were in charge of security inside the stadium, while regular security forces guarded it from outside, and the army was on standby for any contingency.
“There were no direct threats but local clerics and religious organizations had opposed holding the event which could have lead to anything,” Ullah added.
The minister revealed that conservative elements had come together to protest outside the stadium on the first day of the event, but local administration officials held talks with them to address their concerns.
“We assured them that the event will be conducted in accordance with Islamic values and local customs.”
The event also featured different food stalls and informational desks to spread awareness on environmental issues, climate change, mental and physical health, handicrafts and entrepreneurship.
Social media users praised the regional government for holding the event successfully and not bowing down to the pressure from conservative elements.
Noted journalists and civil society members shared pictures from the event and thanked the participants for making the country “proud.”
Pakistani society remains oppressive towards women, especially in the most conservative rural areas, and feminist activism is often described as vulgar and is subject to attacks by extremists. EFE