Pakistan Reader# 300, 1 March 2022
The Aurat March, being one of the largest women's demonstrations, has evoked various responses from the people. The March has become important for Pakistan’s women in recent years. They are among the prime revolutions in Pakistan, focusing on creating an egalitarian society drawing examples and inspirations from similar protests and countless insightful stories.
While the Aurat March rejoice and strive to enlarge women’s social space, there has been a constant resistance to what they want to achieve. Some see the March as a means to address the suffering of women and minorities; others see it as a breach of Pakistan’s culture and customs. Over the last few years, the conservative and Islamist organisations have intensified their opposition to gender issues significantly.
Context, Complexities and Challenges
In 2018, a group of young feminists founded Aurat March, which has now become a big platform for women in Pakistan to address gender issues and create an awareness. The Aurat March takes place every year on 8 March, on International Women's Day. It s individuals from all walks of life joining together to end the patriarchal culture resulting in significant gender disparities.
However, the fundamentalists accuse the movement of being a "Western campaign" aimed at promoting "profanity" in Pakistan. In 2021, the Aurat March supporters in Islamabad were pelted with stones by right-wing opposition who had staged a counter-protest on the same day. The cops did little or nothing to deter the attack, and the government's decision to allow the opposition to gather in the same venue added to the tension in a space that was supposed to be peaceful.
In 2022, the opposition to the proposed Aurat March has already begun. In February, the Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri wrote to the Prime Minister requesting to celebrate International Women’s Day as International Hijab Day. He claimed that such a decision would show solidarity with Muslim women worldwide who are fighting for religious freedom and basic human rights.
He has also asked the government not to allow any organization or individual to raise "anti-Islam slogan” during the proposed Aurat March. He argued that no group should be allowed to challenge or ridicule Islamic beliefs, societal norms, hijab, or Muslim women's modesty during the Aurat March or any other event organised in connection with International Women's Day, as these gestures damage the sentiments of Muslims in the country.
Religious political parties, in addition to the minister's viewpoint, have taken similar positions. The President of the Islamabad section of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has expressed objection to the Aurat March, and has threatened to use "force" to stop it. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has also spoken out against the Aurat March, alleging that it violates societal and Islamic values.
The Aurat March manifesto 2022: Five major takeaways
Despite the opposition, frontline leaders of the Aurat March presented their manifesto on 19 February. It is centred on the idea "Reimagining Justice."
The manifesto calls for a fundamental rethinking and structural revision of the state's notions of justice.
The manifesto looks at the following aspects.
First, the manifesto looks at the judicial system and gender minorities. The manifesto contains examples of how women and gender minorities have been treated in court, emphasizing the existing system's failure to protect assault survivors. The raping of a woman inside a judge's chamber in Sindh, lawyers resorting to physical violence against a woman in court in Malir Cantt, and the acquittal of the killer of Qandeel Baloch are few examples of how the criminal justice system is intrinsically flawed.
Second, the manifesto explores minimum wages. Workers should be paid a living wage depending on their provision of safe housing, decent education, and reasonable healthcare for themselves and their families, whether they work in factories, on farms and homesteads, in homes as domestic workers, or as sanitation workers. As a first measure, the manifesto calls for the minimum wage to be reinforced across all industries, with any actors who refuse to pay it being penalized under the law.
Third, the manifesto looks at social and financial security. In light of the care labour, they undertake and the financial abuse they face, the manifesto insists that women be provided with social security and protection through increased benefits, such as stipends.
Fourth, the manifesto addresses the need for environmental justice. It argues “climate change has created a food security crisis and food insecurity is a feminist issue,” because, women are more prone to suffer from malnutrition and lack of access to food due to patriarchal household systems and gender discrimination.
Fifth, the manifesto iterates economic justice. It claims that Pakistan is amidst an economic crisis underpinned by a crisis of capitalism, indifference and patriarchy. Excessive borrowing from the IMF by the current government and its inability to fulfil IMF’s demands has also put more pressure on the citizens. Hence, the manifesto advocates that the poor and marginalized should not face the burden of IMF-driven policies.
In conclusion, the manifesto believes that instead of short-term remedies, it urges systemic reforms to prevent patriarchal violence. It necessitates a paradigm shift in preventative strategies through education, community building, and social welfare at the forefront. Though some of the demands are far-sighted to achieve, striving to reimagine and address societal paradoxes, need immediate action and undivided support.
The suppressed have made their case. Women's suffering experiences must be heard across the country, both rural and urban areas, as this requires patience, compassion, and understanding from all kinds of individuals. Is Pakistan prepared to pool its resources to fight for the right cause, women's rights?
“After JUI-F, TLP also opposes Aurat March,” Dawn, 27 February 2022
Peerzada Salman, “Aurat March this year to focus on wages, security and peace for women,” Dawn, 25 February 2022
Huma Yusuf, “March for Justice,” Dawn, 21 February 2022
“Hostility to Aurat March,” Dawn, 19 February 2022
Javed Hussain, “JUI-F opposes Aurat March, threatens to stop it with a baton,” Dawn, 18 February 2022
Kalbe Ali, “Minister’s anti- Aurat March missive draws women’s ire,” Dawn, 18 February 2022
“Qadri urges PM to ban anti-Islam slogans during Aurat March,” The Express Tribune, 17 February 2022