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Time: The devastating floods in Pakistan have driven many families out of their homes, which has caused discomfort among the many men and women in rural areas, who practice purdah, the physical separation of women from men they are not related to. Families are forced to live in close proximity with people they don't know, and women and men both fight for limited goods from relief agencies. Many fear that violence will erupt between men of various factions the longer families are forced to live in camps, far away from the seclusion of their homes.
"Parda, which is also spelled purdah and means curtain in Urdu, is the practice of shielding women from men they are not directly related to, both through physical segregation and through the custom of modesty, that is, with shape-concealing clothing. It is observed by many women in rural areas of Pakistan, including the majority-Pathan northern belt bordering Afghanistan. In these parts, a family's honor is often tied to the chastity and obedience of its women — and protecting and defending the honor of women from verbal and physical harm is part of an ancient code of honor and revenge. But the code is all too often taken to extremes. Barely a week goes by without a story appearing in the Pakistani media about an enraged male — from across Pakistan's multiethnic spectrum — who has killed a female relative or relatives for some perceived infringement of "honor." For women adhering to parda, it's usually easier and safer for them to simply remain secluded in their homes.
The floods have made that option unavailable in many places. Desperation has driven women to vigorously jostle with men for limited relief goods at distribution points. Overcrowding and densely pitched tents have forced them into close quarters with men they don't know, the flimsy canvas coverings providing little privacy from prying eyes.
Gul says the longer it takes to get people back to their homes, the greater the possibility of social unrest amoing men from different conservative towns who have been thrown together. The situation "is pregnant with the possibility of social friction," he says. "Frustrations will start boiling over. People are saying the worst is over, but I would say that the worst has just started."