Pakistan Reader# 567, 7 March 2023
D. Suba Chandran
Today (07 March, Tuesday), the Lahore High Court asked the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore to consult with the organizers of the Aurat March and finalize the venue for the march, which was planned by the latter to be held on 08 March, International Women’s Day.
Earlier, the organizers of the Aurat March had approached the High Court, when the deputy commissioner refused to give permission to organize the march on International Women’s Day. According to the DC, the march cannot be allowed due to “the current security scenario, threat alerts, and law and order situation, and in light of activities like controversial cards and banners for awareness of women’s rights and the strong reservation of the general public and religious organizations, especially JI’s (Jamaat-i-Islami) women’s and student wings, who had also announced a programme against the Aurat March.”
This is not the first time that the Aurat March is facing obstruction from the administration to organize the march on 8 March. This has been the case for the last few years, ever since the idea of the Aurat March started finding roots across Pakistan. Today, the Aurat March has found a space for itself. It is a small one; a result of a long tough fight, nevertheless, a space that is bound to grow. And that is precisely what the opponents of the Aurat March do not want. They oppose the idea of the Aurat March using religion and societal values as an excuse to hide their feudal and patriarchal mindset.
How can a woman think for herself? How can she claim, it is “her body and her choice”? A section believes that it may be “her body, but it is my choice.” This section also believes, if her body is my choice, then her thinking should also be my expression. The opposition to the Aurat March stems from this ownership perspective of women.
The government should not have burdened the Aurat March organisers to appeal to the court and ask for permission and provide security. Instead, the government should have upheld the women’s rights as its own and asked them to go ahead with the march. It should have promised full security to the march and stood by their side. If it can allow the meetings of political parties, long marches by leaders, and Pakistan Super League games, it can easily provide an enabling environment for the Aurat March to be held. Any sane government should have done that, instead of hiding behind opposition from religious parties or yielding to feudal thinking. The government would have no problem in allowing the religious parties-led Haya March. Will the Haya Marchers be banned, or be told by the government not to come to the streets?
Disallowing the march is also against the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. Thankfully, the court has stepped in. But the issue here is, the state should have stood up for the women. Aurat March is one of the few positive developments in Pakistan. The government and civil society should fully embrace it.