Pakistan Reader# 310, 11 March 2022
The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 ranked Pakistan 153rd out of 156 countries on the index. Such a ranking is understood through the risks women suffer from social, religious, and traditional customs daily. One of the very prevalent forms of violence against women is "honor killing" within Pakistan. The most common motive appeared to be retribution or punishment for illicit relationships and ignoble marriage choice.
The above-mentioned crimes against women, including others, are a depiction of what Aurat March seeks to achieve and end oppression against women and other gender minorities. A failure of the justice system, especially those pertaining to vulnerable and minorities of the population was the highlight of this year’s annual March. It addressed varied concerns such as transgender issues, forced disappearances, environmental justice, etc. The theme chosen for this year was “Reimagining Justice” or “Asal Insaaf”, which is the need of the hour to protect women and gender minorities.
Aurat March 2022: Processions and Demands
The annual procession, which marks International Women’s Day brings people from all walks of life together. They marched in major cities across Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, demanding equal rights and freedom for women, as well as a halt to oppression. Regardless, the risk of things going wrong was apparent this year, given JUI-F hardliner’s vows to reject the yearly protest with force and the country's religious affairs minister's insistence on a ban on the March.
Nevertheless, very quickly, the fear gave way to enthusiasm, which manifested itself in shouts of freedom and resistance, joy in celebrating what it means to be a woman, and, most significantly, the strength and solidarity found in numbers, no matter how small they were.
In Multan, Lahore, and Karachi, the March comprises three main chapters.
Each Aurat March chapter has its manifesto, with the Karachi chapter concentrating on wages, security, and peace, Lahore on rethinking justice, Multan on reimagining education, and Islamabad on justice, security, and independence. The three main demands of the Karachi chapter are: providing a living wage based on access to safe housing, quality education, and affordable health for workers and their families; providing social protection and security for all women and the transgender community through monthly stipends; and emphasizing child welfare by ending child labor, human trafficking, and bonded labor.
Meanwhile, the Lahore chapter developed its manifesto after conducting thorough research and holding talks with key stakeholders, including families affected by enforced disappearances, domestic workers, sexual abuse survivors, and religious minorities. It calls for more comprehensive changes that aim to restructure society, give psychosocial support to victims of assault, and rehabilitate perpetrators. In addition, the Lahore chapter pushes for structural reforms to prevent patriarchal violence rather than short-term fixes like capital penalty and chemical castration.
As cited by the Express Tribune, a participant of the March claimed “Pakistan is for everyone, not only for men,” in that case why is there widespread criticism and hatred towards the rally? The pushback to the rally is not only by another half of the population; men but also from women who perceive the demonstration to be an elite activity. Therefore, at this juncture answering two questions are important; Is Aurat March un-Islamic? and Is Aurat March an elite annual activity?
Women endure difficulties all throughout the world. The Muslim world is a one-of-a-kind example in which religion plays a significant role in mainstream society. The opposition to the Aurat March is primarily religious. There are Islamic historical texts and other records dating back from the days of Muhammad which suggest that Islamic has encouraged active women participation with some reservations. The idea of gender-based equality in Islamic traditions vary from regions and sects (Salafi, Sunni & Shiaites). The interpretations of religious texts and teachings by each sect can range from being extremely conservative like the Iranian society to being completely relaxed like UAE. The degree of freedom and individuality enjoyed by women in Islamic society are non-identical and sometimes even contrasting. Thus, Aurat March cannot be smeared as Anti-Islamic, but the movement can be seen as a threat to the male dominant Islamic institutions and norms that is prevalent in Pakistan. To sum up, the true problem lies in the misperception of demanding equality by women in Pakistan is considered as being tantamount to a belief in supremacy over men.
Is Aurat March an elite annual activity?
The rally, for a long time, is perceived to be restricted a privileged section of men and women. But this is not true, simply because, the March since its inception in 2018 has seen a large turnout ever since. Many of them claim that the social media pictures didn’t represent their issues and problems. However, it is only the cream that gets portrayed to the world. On the ground experience of the Aurat March can only be a chilling moment, with extensive support to gender minorities in the country. An example of why the March is not an elite activity is depicted in the change of venue in Karachi.
Sheema Kermani, organizer of the rally, reflected on the change of venue from Frere Hall, which was a symbol of protesters from the city's wealthier neighborhoods, to MA Jinnah Road was in an effort to make the protest more mainstream and accessible to all. She also said that the very fact that women belonging from different sections and generations is an achievement and a big step for the March. Overall, because Aurat March is the voice of every woman striving for justice, it has and will continue indefinitely.
To conclude, the rally's high turnout and relative success are just for that moment in time, and it loses steam shortly. Ineffectiveness in sustaining the demands and a manifesto that covers a wide range of concerns rather than focusing on a single demand has not achieved any noticeable results in the country. The movement is indeed proved to be revolutionary, but it is important to remember to resolve the issues with pro-active legislations, implementation and judicial verdicts.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, once said: "No nation can rise to the height of glory unless women walk side by side with the men." It holds true for generations to come.
“Aurat March rallies held across cities,” The Express Tribune, 9 March 2022
“I went to the Aurat March for the very first time and here’s what I saw,” Dawn, 9 March 2022
Sameer Mandhro, “Women march for freedom, equality,” Dawn, 9 March 2022
“Aurat March: Women walk for their rights across cities in Pakistan?” Dawn, 8 March 2022
Afiya S Zia, “Where is the Aurat March heading?” Dawn, 7 March 2022
Farah Ahdeed, “Society: Is Aurat March Un-Islamic?” Dawn, 6 March 2022