“Mera jism, Meri marzi”, “Apna khana khud garam kr lo”, “Mujhay kya maloom tumhara moza kahan hai!” … we all have heard such slogans at some points in our lives recently!
These slogans came to our life direct from the very familiar, popular and at the same time; very controversial “Aurat March”. However, before discussing further let’s have a look, What Aurat March is and what is it about? On International Women’s Day, while women in rest of the world celebrate independence and womanhood every year, Pakistani women are coming on the streets to demand their rights since 2018. During the past years, it has also received huge resistance from the society where organizers and participants of the march had to face huge backlash.
What is Aurat March?
Aurat March is a protest that is arranged by Women’s Rights Organizations on International Women’s Day i.e. Eight of March every year. It is organized under the banner of ‘Hum Auratain’ (we women). Hum Auratain is an umbrella term that caters feminist women, nonbinary persons, transgender individuals and gender and sexual minorities.
It is being organized since last three years. Although it is arranged by activists, but a large number of women participate in this march with placards in their hands. These placards have different slogans written on it as per the wish of the placard holder. The marchers raise voice for equal opportunities, social equality and basic rights of women. Aurat march observes a different theme each year for instance in 2020, it was “Mera jism, merimarzi”.
Since the first demonstration in 2018, Aurat march has gained a lot of popularity. The march which started from Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and other big cities has succeeded to make space in majority of the minds. It is getting every possible coverage by Social and Mainstream media. In fact, people are also having debates regarding Aurat March on social media.
It would not be wrong to say that it has created a buzz. No matter if people are supporting or criticizing its idea but, they are discussing it. But then again the question arises that why there are so many question marks on this march? Are women not equal citizens of the society? Is it wrong if women come forward and demand their basic rights?
Certainly not! Every sane individual would agree that the constitution of Pakistan gives many rights to the female citizens as it ensure the rights of males of the country. The law allows people having freedom of expression regardless of their sexual identity. Then what is the point of creating fuss if women raise voice for their rights?
As long as the march is not bothering or disturbing anyone, not doing any damage to any personal or public property, remains peaceful – it does not need to be criticized with aggression. Tolerant societies give everyone an opportunity to express their concerns and views. Every individual can have a different opinion on this matter and as responsible citizen we should agree or disagree.
The Plight of Women in Pakistan
Pakistan, like many other Asian countries, is patriarchal society and no doubt, Pakistani women have to face violence and harassment at each step of their life. The frustration of this society has increased to such an extent that even a few months or years old girl child is not safe and gets raped.
The women who step out of their homes to earn for their families gets exploited at the hands of their employers. Home is the safest place for any woman but unfortunately this poor creation of God also faces domestic violence and the most saddening aspect here is that; the one who shatters her soul in a space as safest as a home is none other than her own husband, father or brother.
Nonetheless, these are just a few scenarios. Every woman has her own story and therefore, her own set of challenges. The daughter of Eve also become victim of honor killing, rapes, forced marriages, forced conversions, discrimination in salaries as well as abortions. On one hand, women are deprived of education while on the other hand they are also used to solve disputes between different groups. In some households, they are even deprived of their own earned salaries but the issues does not end here. The list goes on! It is heart wrenching to know that a survey carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) declared Pakistan as sixth most dangerous country for women.
Therefore, neither Aurat march can be termed as a bad idea nor the concept behind it can be swept under the carpet if a group of women gather and collectively raise voice for their concerns. Any impartial male or female member of the society with a progressive mindset would not stop her from demanding her rights.
Themes of Aurat march
The theme of Aurat march is different for each year. On annual basis, the organizers of Aurat march release a manifesto which demands justice against violence on women at workplaces, homes and public places as well as also call for accountability. It also stresses upon the need for economic justice, access to public spaces for all and inclusion.
Starting from the year 2018, the theme of Aurat march was ‘equality’. The theme in 2019 was ‘Sisterhood and solidarity’. Lawyer and Digital Rights Activist Nighat Dad explained the theme in her words saying 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.
The theme for the year 2020 was ‘Mera jism, merimarzi’ which added fuel to the already controversial debate. As per the manifesto, it aimed at demanding a society without patriarchal structures that are exploitative and control of economic resources. It also suppressed on the need of imparting right to women to make decisions regarding their own bodies and ending harassment, forced conversions and stigmatic portrayal of women in media.
Now, for 2021, the organizers of the march have decided the theme to be ‘Women’s Health Crisis’ to bring attention towards the adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic on Pakistani women. This theme has been selected owing to the disturbing findings in the report of Aurat foundation. The findings stated that from January to December 2020, the violence against women has increased alarmingly during the times of corona. The cases of violence included crimes like honor killings, rape, murder, burning, suicide, kidnappings, domestic violence, dowry, inheritance, forced conversions etc.On the other hand, Pakistan also has the highest rate of breast cancer as compared to all over Asia.
Criticism on Aurat March
Aurat March is one of the highly criticized activities in the country which consistently remain a topic of debate all around the year. Its critiques include not only men and religious groups but women as well. The controversial slogans are playing the role of fuel in the fire. The critiques are using multiple platforms to express their dislikingon this initiative.Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly has unanimously passed a resolution which was moved by a ‘woman’ parliamentarian. She termed it UnIslamic and shameful. On the other hand, Tanzeem-ul-Islam party also put up a number ofbanners in Lahore carrying slogans against Aurat march.
Similarly, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman – head of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) has also instructed his party workers and followers to ensure their efforts to stop Aurat march from taking place. A number of posters in Islamabad advertising Aurat March has been torn down. Maulana Amjad Khan, Deputy Secretary of JUI-F has expressed that this march is against the norms and values of Islam. He also claimed that the organizers of the march are promoting an agenda in which vulgarity and anti-religious values are being promoted.
Previously, a woman had filed a petition in Sindh High Court terming its slogans as ‘immoral’ and pledging that such slogans should not be allowed in the march.Similarly, another petition filed by chairman of the Judicial Activism Council – Azhar Siddique in Lahore High Court described the march as ‘against the very norms of Islam’. However, luckily, there is some hopein this situation as well. Last year, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) announced a 20-day campaign from March 1st to March 20th. The campaign was aimed at creating awareness ‘constructive role of women in their families and the society and to ensure security of women and their rights to inheritance’.
Yet, the discouraging aspect is to know that the organizers of the Aurat march are even harassed and threatened. Theyare given the titles of ‘bad women’ and western agents that aim to damage the beautiful culture of Pakistan.
Why does Aurat March face huge criticism?
It is so unfortunate that sometimes even like-minded people criticize this initiative. But they, too, have their reasons which are ‘not’ invalid! We all know that sometimes there are certain things that can spoil the “effectiveness” of a very useful platform. Aurat March and its fundamental idea has to undergo the same challenge in the form of vulgar and illogical slogans and the lose language being used by the marchers.
While the fact is that it can definitely not prove to be helpful in carrying the message of this march further but will just give an opportunity to the critics to prove their stance. Following a balanced approach here is mandatory. Using unethical language and graphics in slogans will just lead the “Aurat march” away from the true essence of its cause.
Balanced approach needed from both Men and Women
The Holy Quran states ‘He created you in pair’. It is pertinent that men and women, both need each other in order to live a balanced life and ensure a flourished society. Therefore, joint efforts are required from both ends. Women are subjected to violence and this fact can not be denied. In this state, the male members of the society should come forward to provide every possible assistance to females for raising their concerns.
Meanwhile, women who are participating in the march also need to practice a more sensible and responsible attitude. They need to ensure that they avoid the controversial slogans which will not only adversely affect the true meaning of their cause but also lose a huge support from the male members of the society.
The female marchers also need to understand that their power can change the world. We have observed such scenarios in past. Let us not forget that Black Lives Matter was founded by three black women. And this is just one example. So why wasting the effectiveness of the platform? Why helping the opponents? Why not building each other up? Why not including critics in the movement through effective communication rather than wasting efforts by using vulgar language?
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