Aurat March

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The Aurat March (Urdu: عورت مارچ‎ or عورت احتجاج, transl. Women's March) is an annually-held social/political demonstration, organized in various cities of Pakistan including Lahore, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar to observe International Women's Day.[1] The first Aurat March was held on 8 March 2018 in Karachi.[2] In 2019, it was organised in Lahore and Karachi by a women's collective called Hum Auratein (We the Women), and in other parts of the country, including Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Mardan, and Faislabad, by Women democratic front (WDF), Women Action Forum (WAF), and others.[2] The march was endorsed by the Lady Health Workers Association, and included representatives from multiple women's-rights organizations.[3][4] The march called for more accountability for violence against women, and to support for women who experience violence and harassment at the hands of security forces, in public spaces, at home, and at the workplace.[5] Reports suggest that more and more women rushed to join the march until the crowd was became scattered. Women (as well as men) carried posters bearing phrases such as 'Ghar ka Kaam, Sab ka Kaam' (Household work, is everybody's work), and 'Women are humans, not honour' became a rallying cry.

Women dressed in T-shirts that read "my favorite season is the fall (of patriarchy)" and "girls just want fundamental human rights". Some wore masks of dead social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch and one group held ‘patriarchy’s janaza’ (funeral procession of patriarchy) on their shoulders. Participants were from all walks of life and included many eminent people. Social media and YouTube video messages expressed support for those who were marching. Nimra Afzal claimed in her article, that Aurat March is a women's empowerment movement which is not restricted to just peace rallies, raising awareness placards or sloganeering for women's equality in a patriarchal society. The movement is just not man-hating or elitist but a movement that asks for public spaces, with hashtags like #JaggaDein (Give space).[6]

On of the placards displayed by Marchers during Aurat March 2019 Saying 'Lo Beth Gayi Sahi Se' See I am sitting now properly.' (For ref. see section:'Posters, Slogans and Media Debates'

Context[edit]

Feb. 3, 2021
'...A mother of two minor daughters
was allegedly tortured to death
by her in-laws in Gujjarpura area
‘for not giving birth to a baby boy’...

– Dawn (Pakistan).
"Woman ‘tortured to death’
by in-laws in Lahore ".
LAHORE, February 3, 2021 [7]

Against the backdrop of deep rooted socio-religio-political patriarchal structures of Pakistan's society and state, women in Pakistan face many types of social ills, systemic discrimination depriving fundamental rights amounting to sexual apartheid[8] including, but not limited to forced & early childhood marriage, lack of enough formal public education opportunities, lack of freedom and lack of access to use two wheeler, lack of free & safe access to public spaces, domestic violence, sexual harassment & sexual violence at homes, at public transport & at work places plus wage gap, over powering of their sexual freedom & right of choice and equality under religious garb. Women also face many serious crimes like appropriation of rights & abuse for revenge including but not limited to acid attacks, honor killings without being addressed, regularly silenced by society, frequently overlooked by state.[9] With the guidance of feminist movement, new generation of women's collective started challenging status quo with the help of social media in parallel to #MeToo movement , in an effort to take equal rights movement to ordinary women. Hence they started organizing annual Aurat March on international women's day.[10][11][8]

'...“
not allowed
to make decisions
about their own bodies.
The men who come with them
get to make the call
on their deliveries, .. pregnancies
...so many underage girls
who were married off
to 40-year-old men
...into the emergency rooms
on their wedding nights,
what is that
if not patriarchal violence?.”
~ Dr Sher Shah Syed.

– tribune.com.pk
"Aurat March ’21
and what it will entail".
March 7, 2021[12]

In an article published on 14 February 2016 in Forbes, journalist Sonya Rehman wrote, "while the world celebrates Valentine's Day, a number of Pakistani women succumb to honor killings by their very own kin".[13] An honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community.[14] The death of the victim is viewed as a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family. Pakistan has world's highest prevalence of honor killings. Pakistan, where 60 percent of the population is below age 30 and half are under 18, are influenced more by global trends than traditions.[15][16] Valentine's Day serves annually as a flash point of the culture war in Pakistan.[17] Diaa Hadid says that it is a cause célèbre for religious hard-liners, affording conservatives a chance assert themselves as the caretakers of Islamic identity.[18] While many Pakistanis celebrate the Valentine's Day's festivities, Pakistan has officially banned Valentine's Day, and the Islamist orthodoxy[19] has taken steps to obstruct celebrations,[15][20] Women's freedom is scorned by conservatives and extremist institutions in Pakistani society.[20] The focus is not simply to restrict women's free expression on a particular day, but rather to subjugate women to strengthen male dominance through their seclusion from public life. The complex rules of purdah (seclusion) which reinforce chastity and family honor, have led to socio-cultural disparities, in every aspect of women's lives. Lacking an understanding of their civil, legal, and political rights, women's opportunities for participation in society are limited and they are left vulnerable to exploitation, oppression, and abusive control by others without adequate recourse.[21][22] Technically, love is not haram (forbidden) in Islam, but gender segregation and gender mixing prohibitions stifle the freedom of Muslim women.[18] Access to public spaces for women is severely constrained[22] and conservative, rigid interpretations of Islam create limits on women's behavior. In the conservative view, women are not allowed to show their faces, not allowed to talk to unrelated men unless the communication is essential, and are unable to choose their own life partner, as that is a decision made by the head of the family.[23][24]

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan lists 460 cases of reported honour killings in 2017, with 194 males and 376 females as victims. Of these killings, 253 were sparked by disapproval of illicit relations and 73 by disapproval of marriage choice. Additionally, out of the known suspect relationship with victims, over 93% were family relationships.[25] Although these are most likely only a sample of the actual honour killings that were completed during 2017, it still gives a glimpse into characteristics of honour killings in Pakistan. Sources disagree as to the exact number by year, but according to Human Rights Watch, NGOs/INGOs in the area estimate that around 1000 honour killings are carried out each year in Pakistan.[26]

With such horrific background of fundamental human right violations of women of Pakistan, millennial young adults started demanding access to public spaces with movements like Girls at Dhabas which gained significant traction from women across South Asia since 2015.[27] and so also new generation of feminist thought started breaking the silence around issues like sexual autonomy and agency as soon as they did get opportunity to express through some of placards of Aurat March, says Zoya Rehman.[28] That is how the March which was primarily intended for gender equity in multiple range of issues also came to explore construction of narratives relating to socio religiopolitical exploitation of women sexuality in Pakistan and challenge posed to sexual injustices through Aurat March by new generation feminist became part of Pakistan's national debate.[28]

Manifesto[edit]

Manifesto demands economic justice, including implementation of labour rights, the Sexual Harassment Against Women in the Workplace Act 2010, recognition of women's input to the ‘care economy’ as unpaid labour, and provision of maternity leaves and day care centres to ensure women's inclusion in the labour force. Among other things, it also demands access to safe drinking water and air, protection of animals and wildlife, recognition of women's participation in production of food and cash crops, access to a fair justice system, inclusion of women with disabilities as well as the transgender community, reproductive justice, access to public spaces inclusion in educational institutions, rights of religious minorities, promotion of an anti-war agenda, end to police brutality and enforced disappearances.[5]

Themes[edit]

According to Zuneera Shah, while etymology of word 'Aurat' (Woman) indicates being misogynistic. The word "Aurat" has controversial roots in Arabic. Due to this, many Indian, Iranian and Arab Feminists find it problematic to use and criticise those who use the word Aurat to refer to women. In its nature, it is seen as inherently misogynistic.[29] Since Western supremacy over feminist movements feeds into a distaste towards feminism in countries such as Pakistan. Localization of the struggle for women's rights has importance among South Asian activists and feminists the way to relate the feminist movement.[30] Shah says With the Aurat March, terms such as 'pidar shahi' (patriarchy) and 'aurat march' are being circulated and created.[30]

Theme for 2018 march was 'Equality’ whereas theme for 2019 march is 'Sisterhood and Solidarity'.[5] Nighat Dad explains in her article that "The agenda of this march was to demand resources and dignity for women, for transgender community, for religious minorities and for those on the economic margins but more importantly to acknowledge that women’s emancipation is inherently linked with the improvement of all mistreated groups and minorities.As per Leena Ghani theme for 2020 Aurat March is Khudmukhtari (autonomy) and violence, both sexual and economic.[31]

Women's March 2019[edit]

Women displaying placards during Aurat March 2019

Posters, Slogans and Media Debates[edit]

The hundreds of posters featured at women's day march across Pakistan highlighted fundamental rights issues such as access to education and employment.[32] Mera Jism Meri Marzi (My body, my choice) became a main and most talked slogan of Aurat March with a lot of debates, discussions in country over the years.[33] This led to slogans like 'Why are you afraid of my self determination', 'A woman's right to autonomy on her own body', 'In fact, everyone should get to decide what happens to their body, for themselves'[34] Some of March 2018 posters included slogans like "Our rights are not for grab neither are we", "Girls just wanna have Fundamental human rights", 'Transwomen are women shut up', "Tu kare tou Stud, Mai Karun tou Slut (If you do it then Stud but If I do it then Slut)", "Safe street program for women", "Stop being Menstrual phobic", "Consent ki Tasbeeh Rozana Parhen (Ask for consent every time)", "Paratha Rolls Not Gender Roles."[35][36]

In March 2019, some posters also appeared saying "Man of quality will never be afraid of equality, "Jab tak aurat tang rahay gi, jang rahay gi, jang rahay gi",[37] and "Keep your dick pics to yourself". Another had a drawing of a vagina and two ovaries and the words: "Grow a pair!" Another poster said, "If you like the headscarf so much, tie it around your eyes", one depicting a girl sitting with her legs spread out, Lo Beth Gayi Sahi Se[38] or the irreverent Akeli Awara Azaad "Nazar teri gandi aur purdah mein keroun" (Why do I adopt veil cause of your bad habit of ogling) "Aaj waqai maa behn ek ho rahi hai"[39] depicts all women coming together without differences. One poster read that maybe we haven't seen any woman as independent as a 'tawaaif', so this is the reason we (some of our society) consider every independent woman a 'tawaaif', another "My shirt is not short, it's your mindset that is narrow", a poster questions "Oh, I am sorry. Does this hurt your male ego?"[40] and posters like "these are my streets too" claimed public spaces.

Ailia Zehra deconstructs a poster in her article that says "If Cynthia does it, she’s applauded. If I do it, I’m the villain". Cynthia Ritchie is an American social media influencer who rode a bicycle somewhere in Pakistan and tweeted her picture to encourage more women in public spaces. This placard seemed to confuse the reasons why the American woman was trying to encourage Pakistani women on freedom and mobility. Ailia Zehra regrets double standards saying Yes, Pakistani men are fine with women riding bicycles on the roads – as long as the women are white.[41]

Nighat Dad who organized the women's march in Lahore, said people were angry over the posters because most Pakistanis, especially men were not yet ready to allow them free choice. As per Nighat Dad, restricted topics like women's rights to their own bodies, their sexuality, are being discussed for the first time was an immense success of the march. Dad complained, "Online harassments has gone too far in terms of death and rape threats to the organizers and also to the marchers."[42][43] According to Nisha Susan, the poster 'Lo Baith Gayi Theek Se' (See, I am sitting now properly) is not about woman spreading but it is a statement against policing of women bodies with frequent reprimand women face about their sitting postures and their movements, since their child hood even when they are alone at home, these constant reprimands are kind of continuous sexualization of female body to find pretext for victim blaming.[38][44]

Many grumbled that the marchers were "vulgar" opportunists who had transgressed on conservative values in the Muslim-majority country and "undermined" a legitimate fight for rights with a liberal, anti-Islamic agenda.[32][45] Feminist writer Sadia Khatri exposes this built up of narrative in her article, "Should feminists claim Aurat March's Vulgar Posters? Yes absolutely." Khatri says people have been posting photographs showing the posters that didn't get as much air-time, posters addressing the range of 'important' causes that news anchors have accused the March of ignoring, like education, inheritance and marital rights. By bringing up the manifesto to defend the posters, for instance, Pakistan Feminists isolated themselves from the supposedly provocative posters, and in fact confirm their 'vulgarity'. It implies that Pakistani feminists agree that feminism should operate within the bounds of 'respectability'. According to her accepting narratives prescribing boundaries of respectability are traps that needs to be avoided by feminists and not to be allowed to be cemented in any social discourse. Feminism with conditions is no feminism. It maintains the division between what is ‘acceptable’ and what is 'immodest', what is 'public' and 'private', allowed and not. It pits the two against each other, rewarding the feminists who rally for legal rights and work-life balance and slut-shaming those who reclaim gendered slurs and carry the posters they did at the March. She questions whether feminism to allow discriminate and gatekeeping, and this gatekeeping is patriarchy's way of bolstering the binary of purpose vs pleasure, where the feminism of purpose (health, education, marital rights) is 'good' feminism, and the feminism of pleasure (sexual politics, bodily autonomy, agency over time and leisure) is 'bad' feminism, 'immoral' and 'frivolous'. She explains as feminists use the language of real and serious, end up creating a distinction between 'actual' issues and 'pretended' ones and rush to clarify that feminists have included 'important' causes in our demands, end up suggesting that other causes are unimportant.[46]

In an article "Womansplaining the Aurat March: Dear men, here’s why Pakistan’s women are asserting their rights" writer Rimmel Mohydin handles misogynist objections to the Women's march slogans in a different way.[47] Rimmel Mohydin suggests those men to "smile, you'll look prettier that way." Ms. Mohydin humorously questions Women can be the subject of many sexist jokes, but if the women crack a joke on what ground that wit is considered offensive?[47] She says Every wisecrack, every sassy one-liner, every appealing slogan masked years and years of invisible pain that women have suffered.[47] A Woman can tell men through their placards that she won't warm his bed if he doesn't warm his food, but what really gets misogynist mind hot and troubled is that she, a woman, could laugh at his expense.[47]

On an effort of misogynist parliamentarian's effort or agenda finding conspiracy theory behind women's march Ms. Mohydin sarcastically quips, "It is difficult to know where to place your feet when you find that the backs that you have been walking on are now standing up. That's why the author's compassion is with misogynist politicians". Referring poster slogan "Keep your dick pics to yourself." Ms. Mohydin says What seems to have affronted the male collective the most is the shattering of a fantasy world where women enjoy being subjected to unrequested pictures of male genitals. Poster slogan has hit them hard. It has upset them. And now, they are angry and trying to speak to us in a language that they think we'll understand. They tell us this is not feminism but fail to explain how. They tell us it's about sex, and as 'respectful' women, how dare we utter of it.[47] "When women make demands about their personal lives, their bodies, their sexuality, that's when people feel threatened," Dad said. “So it’s OK to ask the government for the right to education but you can't say you are happily divorced because the breakdown of a matrimony is a shameful thing, a woman’s failure, and you can’t say 'don't send me dick pics' because so-called decent women don't use expressions like dick.” Nobody seems to say anything to the sender, but the reluctant receiver is apparently the problem. Either she likes it (which, to them, makes her a 'slut') or she doesn't (which offends them). So as usual, women cannot win Ms. Mohydin says. Remaining on the same issue Ms. Mohydin strongly questions "Are they unsettled at the loss of this opportunity to titillate women with their phallus? Why are they all shriveling up? Have protesting women given them performance anxiety or what.[47]

Continuing her strong denunciation Ms. Mohydin says, "The placards were a mirror and instead of taking this moment as an opportunity to introspect, they have decided to beat their chest instead. Not their slain bodies, not their acid-burnt faces, not their immobility, not their lack of representation, not the dearth of affordable housing, not the moral policing their choices and bodies are subjected to, not the denial of female education, not the constant threat of sexual harassment and onslaught, not the social structures that cut women’s potential in half, not the exploitation, not the objectification, not the fact that for many, women are still not human. It seems to me that for them, the problem is women themselves, Ms. Mohydin rues.[47]

Shaan Shahid, arguably Pakistan’s well-known film star, wrote on Twitter he thought the posters did not "represent our culture, our values". He was criticized in return for his films that blatantly sexualize women and reduce their existence to a mere prop to exert the ‘masculinity’ of his character. He defends his position as freedom of expression, but when women call out this misogynistic culture with his hypocrisy he looks down freedom of expression by women.[48]

Veena Malik, a popular actress posted that the march had "brought humiliation to women of Pakistan".[49] Twitter users were prompt to remind Veena that "Still better than the shame you brought to this country!!"

Kishwar Naheed, a poet best cherished for a poem called "Us sinful women", was seen in a video saying: "The next time you make such slogans, remember your culture, your traditions."[50] Sadia Khatri a feminist writer, replies back through her column in Dawn saying "Someone should remind Naheed, that it is specifically culture and tradition; that keeps the frivolous and the silly relegating women to private spaces where women court the greatest risks, where the threat of assault is most prevalent, and where, when women are harmed, the walls around womanhood remind women to stay silent, like ‘good’, ‘honourable’ women those culture and tradition are what upturned when thousands of women come out into the streets, dancing and laughing with exhilaration".[46]

According to Guardian journalist Mehreen Zahra-Malik, some of the profanity-filled tirades were frightening. A film student posted screenshots of a group of boys sexually harassing her 16-year-old younger sister online and threatening her with rape for posting on Instagram in support of the march.[51] Pakistan is a conservative society, activists sporting simple posters like "You can’t say you are happily divorced' also received messages filled with sexual innuendo and threats of sexual violence. Women participating in Aurat March had received threats of physical and sexual violence from social media users after posting photographs of the posters. In Pakistan, the threats of violence are not hollow. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, roughly 500 women are killed each year by family members who believe their honour has been damaged.

On 20 March 2019, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly held a protest in the reaction of the Aurat March. Rehana Ismail of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), presented the resolution, saying that women participating in the march were holding "obscene" placards and raising slogans. The resolution said that the demands made at the march about women empowerment were "un-Islamic and shameful".[52]

One popular poster called for men to warm their own food; another asked them to find their own socks. And one read, "I'll warm your food but you warm your own bed." As per Nida Kirmani, a feminist sociologist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences such posters got the most vitriolic responses because those challenged the intimate relations of power within the household. In a NYTimes article Mohammed Hanif says the men in Pakistan who profess to guard women, in real sense only guard for their own selfish interests. Hanif says They don't want to look for their own socks, and they don't want to control that manly urge to take selfies of their private parts and send them to random women.Hanif questions how it is okay asking young woman to stop to holding up a placard and how it can be seen as a threat to the national moral order?[53] As per Sabahat Zakariya, a newspaper editor these kinds of slogans have unleashed a wave of masculine anxiety.[51]

Social media hashtag[edit]

One of the hashtag at 2018 rally was #KhaanaKhudGaramKarLo (heat your own meal). Whereas in 2019 it transformed to 'Ghar ka Kam, Sab ka Kam' (House work is everyone's responsibility) slogan'

2019 March '#WhyIMarch' became the social media hashtag and slogan for the event,[54] with many celebrities, human rights activists, and locals sharing their stories of why they marched #HumAurtein #auratmarch #AuratMarch2019 #JaggaDein.

Ahead of Aurat March 2020 hashtags like #AuratMarch2020 and #MeraJismMeriMarzi are run on various platforms.

Women's March 2020[edit]

Men also joined Aurat March 2020 outside Lahore Press Club to support women's rights

Aurat march was held in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Quetta whereas Aurat Azadi March was held in Islamabad, Sukkur and Multan.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63]

Aurat March Lahore[edit]

Artist Shehzil Malik started collecting poster design submissions for Aurat March of 8 March 2020.[64] Participants of the March created a Mural of posters submitted by Volunteers in Hussain Chowk of Lahore which was ransacked within hours in a hate crime attack.[65][66][67] Janita Tahir says participants in the March are being threatened by orthodox men and need to be taken seriously before any untoward incidence could take place and government need to do needful for protection of participating women.[68][69]

A petition was filed in the Lahore High Court by the Judicial Activism Council Chairman to stop Aurat March 2020, calling it "against the very norms of Islam".[70] This petition was rejected by the Lahore High Court Chief Justice who underscored that freedom of expression could not be banned.[71][9]

In Lahore, marchers gathered outside the Press Club and passed through Egerton Road to culminate outside Aiwan-e-Iqbal. Participants were holding a plethora of placards. Despite the social media storm before the march, men were present in large numbers in support of the Aurat March. The participants delivered speeches and held placards and banners displaying thought-provoking slogans to raise the pressing issues of gender-based violence including sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, deep-rooted misogyny and the patriarchal mindset prevalent in the society. A resolution was submitted in Punjab Assembly by Kanwal Liaquat (MPA-PMLN), demanding an end to gender discrimination. The resolution condemned under-age marriages and demanded that women be granted legal, social and economic protection.[72]

Aurat March 2020 Quetta[edit]

2020 Aurat March in Quetta Balochistan began from and returned to the Quetta press club, was organized by the Women's Alliance.[73][74] Along with rest of social discrimination issues, end of previous year i.e. 2019 was noted with exposing of security establishment and University administration officials of Balochistan University had secretly installed cameras in washrooms and student meeting areas and blackmailing students for years together.[75][76][77]

Women's Day Songs[edit]

As preparation of upcoming 8 March 2020 Aurat March, released and subsequently performed[78] at the march a song 'tum ho rapist' an Urdu version of the feminist anthem 'Un Violador en Tu Camino' — or 'A Rapist in Your Path'. While 'A Rapist in Your Path' is based on Argentinian anthropologist Rita Segato's work and created by Valparaiso feminist collective, Las Tesis, Chile; Urdu version has been localized with relevant issues of Pakistan by mentioning feudalism as part of the Pakistani patriarchy[79][80] A Canadian-Pakistani singer Sophia Jamil (pseudonym:Fifi) too released her song 'Mera Jism Meri Marzi' (My body My Choice) on YouTube.[81][82][83]

Criticism and Reaction[edit]

Hard line conservatives in Pakistan have often criticize the Aurat March, some even taking it to mainstream media while on social media alleging Pakistani feminists of encouraging unIslamic vulgarity by raising inappropriate slogans. Some even threatened participants when feminists clarified that they would rightfully own up and support pro-rights, pro-choice slogans like the Mera Jism Meri Marzi (Urdu: My body my choice). They insisted that there is nothing vulgar in asking their rights; besides it is societal duplicity in Pakistan that besides open display of sexual harassment of women, adverts of 'Mardana Kamzori' (discussing masculine sexuality) are openly displayed, sexualized abusive linguistic commonly used, online search histories of many men would show wide porn consumption, word 'Aurat' itself originally talks of women body in wide use; but when it comes to better awareness and women's rights their slogans are thought to be inappropriate.[84]

As pro-Aurat March hashtags trended on Twitter, including that of Mera Jism Meri Marzi (My body my choice), cultural and intellectual clashes happened in mainstream media.[85] Online social media eventually did show off-line impact.[78] In an analysis of opposing Twitter trends by Rizvan Saeed it emerged that #WeRejectMeraJismMeriMarzi and #HayaMarch were most likely organic few other hashtags which were trended on Twitter like #AmirLiaqat_Laanti #ایکسپائر_کھسرے (roughly translates into "expired eunuchs.")

#فحاشی_مارچ_نامنظور (Roughly translated as "Vulgar March Unacceptable") were inorganically propagated by limited number of individual groups of vested conservative interests including groups affiliated with ultra conservative Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan to trend anti-Aurat March memes.[86]

In April 2019, Jawad Naqvi a cleric, termed Aurat March Organisers ‘Most Evil Of All Women’.[87]

Sarah Khan's take
on feminism?
“...,Keep man and woman
at the place...
designated by Allah
...,Don’t teach your daughters
to do Aurat March
educate your sons...
'men should have equal rights too'..."
~Sarah Khan[88]

–Daily Jang (30 January 2021).
"What is Sarah Khans take
on feminism? Read here"

In the run up to 2020 march, polity in Pakistan started drawing subtle political lines either favoring or distancing from the march in various degrees. Ultra-conservatives claimed Islam is already the most feminist religion and has secured all the rights to women, so they need not have any more demands, but need to go back and adopt more of the modest culture expected of Muslim women. These people arranged counter 'Haya' (modesty) marches to stop Aurat March with the slogan "Our bodies, Allah's choice".[84] Erstwhile Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Muslim league party (PML-N), while it did not oppose Aurat March openly, cautioned marchers not to cross Islamic cultural markers. Contemporary Prime Minister Imran Khan's government, ruled by his Pakistan Tekreek-i-Insaf (which had buckled under pressure to the ultra-conservative groups a month earlier which created violent ruckus while opposing Aurat March in Islamabad) while formally supporting march connected religio-cultural appropriateness of slogans of the march with national honor. Subsequently, after the Aurat March took place, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed criticism of the lack of uniform education which would have educated marchers better.[89] The left-of-center Pakistan Peoples Party was more welcoming of Aurat March. Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the Senator representing PPP, criticized Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party to be favoring ultra-conservative and PML-N and PTI positions as an undeclared anti-women alliance. PPP were replied back opponents by pointing out lacuna on their side.[84][90] Janita Tahir noted that participants of Aurat March are questioning Imran Khan while he speaks so much for human rights for minorities world over, is he doing enough for human rights of half the population of Pakistan which finds itself in weaker position?[68] Farzana Rasheed further asks in her article that why Pakistan can't be Islamic republic & free at the same time? She further questions contradictions of Imran Khan & Pakistan's conservative polity that instigates and condones extremist violence same time claiming to be democratic and peaceful and that they do not support violence but understand sentiment behind it, as usual victim blaming non violent women's protest for the violence committed on them.[78]

According to Sohail Akbar Warraich Pakistan's right wing press does aggressive surveillance of the Aurat March and attempts deep analyses to find LGBTQ friendly and pro choice elements;Not in line with Pakistan's Islamic social fabric and being obscene and vulgar, are common conservative right accusations against participants of Aurat March. [91] Warraich maintains at binging of COVID 19 pandemic in Pakistan, religious right was under pressure and progressive elements bit relaxed, but that phase was very short lived and subsequently Government of Pakistan again buckled under usual pressure of religious right. As such civil society NGOs helping out women in various parts of Pakistan were already wearing out under tremendous governmental pressure since 2013 policy itself, though credit of reformations in women related laws substantially goes to these NGOs; but post 2020 Aurat March scrutiny on them was doubled down with questioning reproductive health related NGOs for words like 'abortion' in one of their publication, and other NGOs were also questioned if any of their staff attended or supported Aurat March, the reason being to search and focus any linkage between NGOs and Aurat March to discredit both of them while factually Aurat Marches since 2018 are being co ordinated by activists collectives sans any formal organizational structure .[91]

Posters and slogans 2020[edit]

The 8 March 2020's slogans also included "Saying Mashallah does not make your harassment halal",[92][93] "Domestic violence kills more than corona", "I march so one day my daughters won't have to", "IMAGINE Not Loving The Women in your Life Enough To Advocate For Their Rights".[93][94]

Supportive gents held placards like, "I am surrounded by the opposite gender and I feel safe. 'I want same for them'", "Proud husband of a feminist, proud father of a feminist, proud feminist", "I will be a proud 'jorru ka ghulam" (I will be proud, being called 'wife's slave' – South Asian misogynist patriarchal culture frequently uses the pejorative term 'jorru ka ghulam' – wife's slave – to men who give an ear to their spouse).[93][94]

Women's March 2021[edit]

Organizer's of Aurat March Lahore 2021 decided "‘Women’s Health Crisis" as theme for 2021's International Women's Day March to bring attention to adverse effects of Covid 19 pandemic on women in Pakistan; and also selected a poster drawn by Shehzil Malik envisioning health concerns of women emanating out of unhealthy environment they face.[95][96] Orgnizer's of Karachi March decided to do a sit-in protest at Frere Hall, Karachi, instead of regular street March; with anti patriarchal violence as a main theme along with a manifesto demanding end to two finger test, more female and trans gender representation in Medico legal teams at hospitals.[96] According to Aurat Foundation report, amidst continuation of under reporting of violence against women and girls, reported cases from 25 districts of Pakistan increased alarmingly to 2,297 cases of violence in between January to December2020 the Covid 19 pandemic times.[97] 57 percent of those violence against women reported cases belong to Punjab (Pakistan) and 27 percent cases emerged from Sindh besides other regions of Pakistan, that included crimes like, honor killings, murder, rape, suicide, acid burning, kidnapping and miscellaneous violence against women (including domestic violence, child and forced marriages, dowry and inheritance).[97] According to Shehzil Malik, Pakistan has highest rate of breast cancer in Asia, 52 percent women of reproductive age are anemic, Women's Day March posters are meant to initiate conversations about pandemic of toxic patriarchal norms, metaphor of health highlights anguish about sickness of structural sexism and exploitation in 'collective body' paining women in Pakistani society, the patriarchal society which priorities profit over care even in Covid and health crisis Pakistani women face.[95]

Conservative political dispensation lead by president of a local trade body at Mardan ( a township in Peshawar region) took out in advance counter protest on 2021 March 6th it self to protest against taking place of Aurat March terming the same obscene, vulgar and secular.[98] Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan special assistant to Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government wants to build a society where protection is provided to gender equality and women rights, in line with the Islamic principles and values.[99]

On 8th of March while at Lahore women wrote down their own experiences of harassment and discrimination on a '(#MeToo) blanket' where as Karachi women displayed their laundry with instances of harassment and discrimination written on them. Placards of 2021 too were devoted to issues of gender-based violence, sexual harassment, rape and female infanticide'.[100] #PatriarchykaPandemic (Pandemic of Patriarchy) was one of the new hashtag floated on social media.[101] For example motivational songs like "kurye meray des diye" were performed in Lahore March and later shared on social media.[101] At Karachi women protested with slogans like Jab tak aurat tang rahegi, jang rahegi jang rahegi' meaning 'the struggle will continue, until woman is vexed'.[102]

Couple of slogan placards were twisting popular Bollywood music, one read Tere liye hee tou signal tor taar ke aaya toxic masculinity chhor chhaar ke” (I jumped all the red signals for you, giving up my toxic masculinity too), it was based on Hindi song lines "Tere liye hee tou signal tor taar ke aaya Dilli wali girlfriend chhor chhaar ke” (I jumped all the red signals for you, leaving my girlfriend back in Delhi). To the placard holding woman a man having friendship with other women too was not as much a concern as much his misogyny would be. [102] Another placard in the march read , “Yunhi koi creep mil gaya tha sare raah chalte chalte” (a creep showed up as I was on my way).[102]

A Pakistani Ali Gul Pir issues a satire song ‘Tera Jism, Meri Marzi’ (Your body, my choice) as a sarcasm of critics of Aurat March slogan 'Mera jism, Meri Marzi') and who think women should not have rights over their own bodies. Lines like “Tera Jism, Meri Marzi. Chup aurat achi bolnay waali gandi,” (Your body my choice, Silent woman is good and woman who speaks is bad) ; “aese kesay tune socha sab aesi wesi hain, jesi teri niyat hai, sab dikhti hi wesi hain.” (How did you think, all women are like 'that', You see women as your intention and motive is) expose and question misogynist patriarchal mindset.[103]

Accusations and disinformation[edit]

While conservative critics of Aurat March attempting to point out Ex U.S. president Donald Trump's criticism of Democrat party favored congressional approval of funding of gender issues in Pakistan and also pointing out a flag in Aurat March as French flag; Aurat March activist complained against the same as a flurry of disinformation; pointing out the flag of Women Democratic Front which is of red, white and purple stripes is wrongly conflated with French flag blue, white and red stripes.[104]

The WDF flag represents grassroots feminism in Pakistan and has nothing to do with the French flag. We, at WDF, stand against all forms of imperialism and the accusation that we would ever wave the flag of a former colonial power is ridiculous. ~ Women Democratic Front

Source: Tribune Fact Check: Two viral videos, a flag and Pakistan's Aurat March; The Express Tribune; March 11, 2021[105]


While many activists of Aurat March also tried hard to state that they are neither associated with any foreign NGO nor any foreign funding and just work on publicly collected small funding incessant criticism for being foreign agenda continued from conservative quarters while some on social media questioned moral authority of conservative campaign on social media saying entire Pakistani state and many a conservatives quarters themselves are foreign funded since decades.[106][107][108][109][110] [111](1:45)

According to reports some critics of Aurat March released a doctored video of Aurat March sloganeering so as to discredit the movement and make women activists' life too difficult with false blasphemy charges.[112][113][114][115][116]


Karachi manifesto 2021[edit]

2021 social media campaign and Karachi manifesto also focuses on various tools of violence against women like discriminatory legislation against women and trans people, acid attacks, enforced disappearances.[96]

Lahore manifesto 2021[edit]

"Women’s Health Crisis" being the main theme, “Feminist Manifesto on Healthcare – Aurat March Lahore 2021” asks for equal participation in health and medical policy making, medical research and medical trials too.[117] Expresses concern about effects of climate change and environmental factors on health of women in Pakistan. Deplores harassment and violence against women health workers.[117] Manifesto asks to discontinue two finger virginity test across Pakistan and asks for increase in number of gender sensitized medico legal staff in hospitals.[117] Manifesto asks for elimination of unscientific cruel punishment of chemical castration from Anti rape ordinance 2020 and maintains that rather than treating rape as crime of power coloring rape as a crime of sexual desire is a faulty notion and repetition of crime against women by using power does not stop with castration.[117]

The manifesto asks state to fulfill it's duties under Pakistan's constitution article 38 (d) which promises to take care of the sick, and maintains that gender-based violence and violation against women bodies harms women physically and mentally hence that is an health issue too, and asks for increased budgetary allocation towards women's health.[117] Manifesto asks for right to privacy while accessing medical help. The manifesto asks for ensuring better health care for prisoner women, victims of child marriage and forced religious conversions.[117] Manifesto states that Pakistan is having one of the highest rates of breast cancer incidences in Asia and government need to improve health care and disease awareness in the same regard.[117]

Manifesto expresses concern over unhygienic social and medical practices among barbers, dentists and health care facilities like reusing contaminated tools without proper sterilization and unsafe sex practices, and unavailability of free and effective care increasing rate HIV incidence in Pakistan[117] Manifesto demands for improved health care for differently able women.[117]

Impact[edit]

According to Moneeza Ahmed, first benefit of Aurat March has provided a platform, has succeeded in initiate a nation wide dialogue about women's rights issues and inter-sectional feminism in Pakistan has become part of mainstream discourse in Pakistan. Ahmed maintains that Aurat March has brought discussion on issues of consent and bodily and sexual autonomy to the forefront.[96] Ahmed and Ajwah say that, while women related laws are still a lot to improve, Aurat March is successful in building pressure for the same. Reporting of Metoo issues from institutions to awareness on problematic issues like two finger tests has improved,[96]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • From Terrorism to Television: Dynamics of Media, State, and Society in Pakistan. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, 2020.

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External links[edit]

Media related to Aurat March at Wikimedia Commons