For five years, the Aurat March has been raising pressing issues faced by women in the country, but continues to face legal challenges
he constitution guarantees freedom of expression to all citizens. Article 19 of the constitution reads: “every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the Press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.” A cursory review of Articles 15, 16, 17 and 19 of the constitution shows that these give us the right to movement, the right of assembly, the right of association and the right of speech, respectively.
The Aurat March is an annual parade that marks the International Working Women’s Day on March 8h. Aurat March was first organised in Pakistan in 2018. It has since spread to other countries, including India and Bangladesh. Aurat March is a platform for women to come together and present demands for their rights in pursuit of gender equality. The movement has gained significant momentum in recent years, with thousands of women taking to the streets to protest issues like gender-based violence, workplace harassment and discrimination.
The history of Aurat March can be traced back to the feminist movements that emerged in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s. These movements were focused on challenging the patriarchal norms that dominated Pakistani society and advocated for women’s rights. The first Aurat March in Pakistan took place in Karachi, with women from all walks of life coming together to demand their rights. The movement quickly gained momentum, with similar marches taking place in other cities across the country. The demands at the Aurat March are varied, but they are all focused on challenging patriarchal norms and advocating for gender equality.
For five years now the Aurat March has been raising pressing issues faced by women in the country. This movement has raised issues regarding women’s education and early marriage and the challenges faced by rape survivors and vulnerable children. Pakistan has seen many atrocities in the form of ‘honour’ killings and discrimination against trans-gender persons. These are all concerns echoed by Aurat Marches in several cities of the country. As an annual event, the march has worked to mobilise on socio-economic causes like environmental rights, better working conditions, invisible exploitation of trans-gender communities and education.
“Fortunately, in the case of Pakistan, the Aurat March has successfully generated a debate on the role and treatment of genders in our society. It would not be wrong to say that the Aurat March has taken the agenda to people’s consciousness along with the legislature.”
Aurat March has faced opposition from conservative groups in Pakistan, who view the movement as a threat to traditional values. Despite this opposition, the movement has continued to grow, with women from various backgrounds coming together to demand their rights and push for change.
The march has been accused by some people of promoting vulgarity and indecency and of being foreign-funded. It has also been criticised for its slogans and banners, which some people find offensive.
Among other things, the movement is known for its use of provocative slogans and posters to draw attention to women’s issues. The use of the pejorative, vulgarity, in relation to the Aurat March is subjective as the description can be interpreted differently by different individuals and groups. Scholars may differ on the appropriateness of the methods used by the Aurat March to raise awareness about women’s issues.
In Pakistan, the Aurat March has generated a debate on the role and treatment of genders in the society. It would not be inaccurate to say that it has taken the agenda to people’s consciousness as well as the legislature.
Islam values modesty and decency in dress and behavior and promotes respect for all individuals, regardless of their gender. At the same time, it recognises the importance of women’s rights and encourages men and women to work together for the welfare of the society.
The legal status of the Aurat March is clear. Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution. However, freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Pakistan and can be restricted in certain circumstances. The restrictions must be reasonable and imposed by law in the interest of Islam, the integrity of Pakistan, friendly relations with other countries, public order, decency, morality or contempt of court.
The Aurat March is a peaceful protest that aims to highlight the issues faced by women in Pakistan. It is a platform where women come together and voice their concerns without fear of repression. The slogans and banners used are a form of expression. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has upheld the right to freedom of expression in several cases. In the case of Benazir Bhutto v Federation of Pakistan, the Supreme Court held that freedom of expression was an essential feature of democracy and that any attempt to suppress it would be a violation of the constitution. The court further held that any restrictions on freedom of expression must be reasonable and necessary to achieve a legitimate aim.
Aurat March should therefore be allowed to continue as a platform for women to voice their concerns and demand equal rights.
The author is an advocate of the Lahore High Court. He can be reached at advocate.ahmedymail.com