A university in Pakistan in an attempt to preserve the country’s traditional culture and halt the spread of Western ideas is re-branding Valentine's Day as "Sister's Day." The holiday in February widely seen as a Western import, is frowned upon by conservatives and hence the university wants to mark the day in another way, for example by handing out headscarves and shawls to its female students.
The University of Agriculture in Faisalabad (UAF), in central Punjab province, said the change was taken to promote "eastern culture and Islamic traditions among the youth". "In our culture, women are more empowered and earn their due respect as sisters, mothers, daughters and wives," UAF vice chancellor Zafar Iqbal is quoted as saying on the institution's website.
"We were forgetting our culture, and Western culture was taking root in our society," he continued. "UAF was mulling a plan to distribute scarves, shawls and gowns printed with the UAF insignia among female students" on February 14, the statement on the website added.
University spokesman Qamar Bukhari told AFP Monday that UAF is seeking donations as it aims to give headscarves to at least 1,000 of its 14,000 female students.
"These scarfs will be distributed by the university administration and not their fellow male students," he added, saying that the goal is to ensure respect for women.
Valentine's Day is increasingly popular among younger Pakistanis, with many taking up the custom of giving cards, chocolates and gifts to their sweethearts and girlfriends to mark the occasion.
But the country remains a deeply traditional Muslim society where women are not expected to look for male partners and marriages are arranged by families. Many disapprove of the holiday as a Western idea.
Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain told a crowd of students in 2016 that the day had no place in the Muslim-majority nation and urged young people to focus on their studies instead.
In 2017, the Islamabad High Court prohibited Valentine's celebrations in public spaces and government offices across the country, while last year the country's media regulator warned TV and radio stations against promoting the holiday.
On social media many rejected the UAF initiative -- some joking that "Sister Day" could also be seen as a reference to the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, in which brothers vow to protect their sisters. (With PTI and AFP inputs)