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Small wins, massive resolve: What is making Pakistan’s Aurat March transfer on


Four years in the past, some girls in Karachi took a small step that has grown into an enormous leap for Pakistan’s womankind—the Aurat March. Held on International Women’s Day on March 8, this annual occasion has attracted ridicule, threats, counter-rallies, slut-shaming, and branding of members as “agents of Western immorality”.

This yr, the nod for the Islamabad chapter got here on the final second after the High Court was concerned and the start line of the march modified. Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan, requesting March Eight be declared as ‘International Hijab Day’, and that the Aurat March not be allowed to “question or ridicule Islamic values”.

And but, attendance on the occasion swells every year, because it spreads to extra cities and cities—from Karachi to Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad. What motivates younger folks to return out and take part within the March, within the face of sure and extreme backlash?

The solutions, from folks of various regional, economical and gender backgrounds, have frequent threads—watching violent patriarchy in motion up and shut; consciousness that programs of oppression are interlinked and wish a concerted fightback; and a way of urgency that change should come NOW.

Harrowing encounters with sexism

Jawaria Abbasi, 28, now a World Bank skilled in Karachi, noticed her village headman father routinely counsel males to “allow” their daughters to exit abusive marriages.

Sorath Sindhu, 29, a physician from Sindh, has seen dad and mom of sexually assaulted boys attempt to hush up instances. An agnostic born right into a Hindu household, Sindhu says the plight of women subjected to compelled conversion makes her “tear up every time”.

Shafique Soomro, 27, a financial institution worker, noticed one too many ladies with burn accidents on their thumbs in Shikarpur—the burnt digits would guarantee they may not attest property papers.

Ayman Fatima, a graduate pupil at Punjab University in Lahore, realised early on she must work twice as exhausting, and “prove herself every day” to win the approval lecturers liberally showered on male classmates.

“The backlash we get is a measure of the impact we are making, and hence a motivation of its own,” says Abbasi. “Everyone in power is threatened by the Aurat March – feudal lords, politicians, clerics. They claim we are questioning Islam, but it is them who are using religion to hoodwink people.”

Posters of hope, energy

Soomro says for him, staying silent was not an possibility. “Every other day in Pakistan, you hear of horrific violence against women. Killings over “honour” abound in a society struggling to provide girls respect. Self-proclaimed upholders of piety gobble up their sisters’ property, when Islam ensures daughters a share. The Aurat March is one outlet for us to voice all this rage and frustration. It is a venue for us to search out like-minded folks. People march with slogans and posters they make themselves. It is the self-expression of a society lengthy denied that.”

The posters Soomro mentions have been one of many prime mills of concern over the Aurat March. Slogans reminiscent of ‘Mera jism meri marzi (My Body My right)’, ‘Apna khana khud garam karo (Warm up your food yourself)’ and ‘Lo main seedhi baith gayi’ (Look, I’m sitting straight) that includes a girl sitting along with her legs not daintily crossed)’ have made grown males froth and foam on the impending collapse of civilisation.

The slogans, all of the members hasten to clarify, are born out of precise tales of oppression—a spouse who was brutally crushed up as a result of she didn’t heat up her husband’s meals as she was sick, a 13-year-old who was killed by her father for not making spherical rotis, in addition to the various different tales of girls being denied bodily autonomy. But the backlash over them has seen even some supporters of the March name for them to be “toned down”.

Yet, for others, the posters imply hope and energy.

“All my life, I have feared authority. Of my parents, of society, of the maulvi saab. Before I read some of these posters, I had no idea authority could be laughed at,” says a 22-year-old one that needs to be recognized solely as “ek rooh, ek jism (one soul, one body)”. The 22-year-old from a city in Sindh is but to determine “my gender or my pronouns”. “I had no tools to engage with such questions. I was focusing my energies on suppressing them. But in 2019, I just happened to be near the Aurat March in Karachi, and heard some of the slogans and speeches. I suddenly felt a lot less alone.”

The 22-year-old has since been attending “informal counselling sessions” on gender and sexuality. “The fact that some people could mock authority, which to me till then had been a suffocating, stupefying force, started the process of setting me free,” the particular person stated.

Of contradictions and solidarity

The slogans, nevertheless, additionally characterize a few of Aurat March’s contradictions. “For some women, freedom is the choice of clothes. For others, it is preventing female infanticide. Some dream of seeing many women become CEOs. My dream is a society where a capitalist concept of a high-flying CEO is not celebrated,” says Fatima.

Sindhu says the difficulty of compelled conversions isn’t as a lot of a burning precedence for everybody as it’s for her. “The term ‘forced conversion’ doesn’t cover the scope of the horror it is. Girls as young as 12-13 are abducted, forced to give up their religion, gang-raped, married off against their will. If the case goes to the police, it drags on. I have seen women crying, begging to meet their abducted daughters just once, and returning empty-handed. One girl being abducted ruins the family. The scared parents don’t allow their other daughters to study or work. We need a law against this, but a collective struggle for it is still a long way off,” Sindhu says.

aurat march, pakistan, pakistan aurat march, pakistan women rights, pakistan women empowernment, aurat march women's day, international women's day, pakistan news Women and males carry indicators as they participate in an Aurat March, or Women’s March in Lahore, Pakistan March 8, 2020. (Source: Reuters/Mohsin Raza)

However, the members additionally say the March is a chance to type solidarities throughout the divisions that separate them. “Religion is not our only identity. We can bond over regional identity, over gender identities too,” Sindhu says. “This March is about giving space to, and celebrating, choices. And that involves learning about each others’ choices,” says Abbasi.

As with any mass motion, the March has additionally needed to cope with the category query.

“Some critics of the March have claimed that women who participate oppress female servants at home,” says Sindhu. “But what these people don’t say is that the prevalent social system allows such oppression, in which everyone is complicit. Our economy is such that only the oppressor, and the very oppressed, stay here. Those who can, get out of Pakistan. I don’t see the Aurat March critics agitating for better labour laws. The March is a place for everyone to learn and reform,” she provides.

Fatima says participation from throughout class strata is rising. “People think attending the March is all about rich women ticking a trendy box. For middle-class women, it is about survival. They need to earn to feed their families, but that whole process – studying, travelling to work, the workplace, coming back to demands at home – is full of injustices. Thus, they are marching for pay parity, for shared domestic chores, for safe workplaces.”

The proclaimed purpose of the Karachi Aurat March official chapter this yr is “march for our labour”. For the Lahore chapter, it’s “legal, economic and environmental justice along the lines of feminist futures”.

All fingers on deck

The manifestos of the Marches are merchandise of labor members do all by means of the yr, creating consciousness and gathering views.

Fatima is a part of a bunch known as Progressive Students’ Collective. Sindhu is related to The Rise Foundation, which works for social justice. The others say they’re energetic on social media, in seminars and discussions. Fahmida Baloch, a pupil who will take part within the Karachi March for the primary time this yr, says she made up her thoughts because of the efforts of such activists.

“Till a few years ago, I was convinced all these feminist agenda was just to ruin our culture. But as I read and listened more, I realised feminism says we deserve equal opportunities, which we will never get unless we fight for them. I will march this year as a way of participating in this fight,” Baloch says.

“At least our March is making people google terms like feminism,” Fatima says. “For me, that is a win. A bigger win came a few days ago – a male student at the university, from a right-wing group, gave me a poster for their counter rally to the Aurat March, the ‘Bint-e-Hawwa march’. I gave him some of my posters and a piece of my mind. He stormed off, and I could see him telling his friends about me. That rage and confusion on his face, something I, every woman, is so used to the feeling, made me exultant. I now have the power to make my oppressors uncomfortable, all thanks to the Aurat March.”


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