Saturday September 23, 2023

Clearing misconceptions surrounding Aurat March

Islam has given a lot of rights to women. None of the organisers or those who believe in this march have ever denied this for even a second

By Maham Ali
March 07, 2020

I have been actively following the hype surrounding Aurat March and consequently the backlash against the Aurat March in certain quarters and I am getting quite tired of men and also women getting riled up to the point of being violent because of a peaceful march. Organisers of the Aurat March are getting rape and death threats on social media, men are abusing women on national television, celebrities are bashing those who believe in feminism, politicians are criticising the slogans and are insisting that they do not reflect the Pakistani society and culture and the religious right have announced to take out “Peaceful Haya March” on the same day.

I have always maintained and sadly, my point is constantly being proved these days, that our entire social structure is built in a way that actually works actively against the vulnerable and weak whether they are women, children, religious minorities or any other marginalised group. When a woman is raped, we blame her clothes, when a child is raped, we blame her/his parents, when we accuse someone of blasphemy, we blame his/her faith or religion. We basically blame everyone BUT the culprit or the accused.

It is frankly quite baffling to see the hate that is being spewed on every space - whether its social media, mainstream media, by prominent politicians, by celebrities. Why are we as a society so threatened and intimidated by women who are choosing to speak up for their rights? Actually many women who come to these marches don't even speak up, they just stand quietly in solidarity, many men who come also stand in solidarity and many come to support their daughters, wives, sisters or simply because they believe that women have the right to make their own choices. Do we actually view women as second-grade citizens owing to which the entire country is up in arms against them? Are we so insecure that we can’t even let one day which is celebrated across the world to celebrate women go without hurling abuses and threats?

I will attempt to respond to some of the comments and statements that have been doing the rounds and will try to clear some of the misconceptions that surround this peaceful march.

1) Some people — mostly men — are saying this is a non-issue and why don’t women march for other things as Islam has given all rights to women.

Islam has given a lot of rights to women. None of the organisers or those who believe in this march have ever denied this for even a second. But the fact remains that despite the rights given to women by our religion, brutal and terrible crimes are committed against the women of this country - rape, sexual harassment, honour killing, forced marriages, forced conversion, forced prostitution, denial of their right to inheritance and so on. Can anyone of these people who are so against the aurat march claim that none of the above mentioned crimes happen in Pakistan because Islam has given all rights to women? Women and many men are simply marching and raising their voices because women are NOT getting their due rights which are promised to them by the constitution of Pakistan and yes, also by our religion. Why is this so hard to understand? Recently, a 14 year old child gave birth to a baby girl as a result of constant sexual assault at her own home for days by 4 of her neigbhours, a 5 year old in Karachi was brutally raped, a 14 year old child was forced into prostitution by her uncle and brother, a brother killed his sister and brother in law in the name of honour, a man killed his wife because the food she served him was not hot and the list goes on and on. Are these non-issues? They shouldn’t be discussed? Citizens should not talk about these horrific crimes?

2) Why don't these "liberal" women talk about "real" issues instead of holding obscene and vulgar posters.

If the detractors of the aurat march were not so obsessed with certain posters, they would look beyond these posters and see that many other issues are discussed in this movement. Transgenders, female farmers, labourers, domestic workers, polio workers, lady heath care workers and many other marginalised groups are present in this march talking about the issues that they face in their daily lives but I guess they are not glamorous enough for the media to pick up?

Also, how many of you who are always telling us to talk about "real issues" will step up and provide us the support we need when we are dealing with child abuse cases, rape cases, cyber harassment cases, domestic violence cases? How many of you promise to stand next to us in courts with the survivor? How many of you promise to raise funds, mobilise your resources when needed? Can we count on you for your support and help?

3) Mera Jism - Meri Marzi

This slogan has really triggered the entire country it seems. Actor Ahmad Ali Butt is saying this means that women are trying to make prostitution legal. Writer Khalil Ur Rahman Qamar is abusing on national TV. Still trying to figure out which part is more triggering. Is it "mera jism" or "meri marzi". I have a feeling its the latter because men like Khalil Ur Rehman can't digest the fact that women have autonomy, ownership and integrity over their own bodies. It is actually beyond my understanding that such a simple sentence can be misinterpreted by sooo many people. This simply means consent. This means that no one even if its a close relative has the right to touch you if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

We see horrific cases of sexual violence against children every single day. If we stop hiding in shame and actually teach our children that they have a right to their bodies and no one and I mean NO ONE is allowed to touch them if it makes them uncomfortable, they might feel more comfortable telling their parents or a trusted adult rather than suffering in silence for years and years.

Also, important to understand that this slogan does not necessarily have to be sexual in nature. It also means for example, that women have the right to quality healthcare.

And this also applies to men. If there is any sort of violence against men, sexual or otherwise, they also have a right to their own bodies and no one the right to violate that.

I would also suggest to those who might not agree with the Aurat March to please do read the manifesto. It talks about the IMF sponsored economic policies and the inflation of basic food items, whose burden is felt especially by working-class women. It talks about safe and equal workplaces be provided to women, it demands that defamation laws should not be used as a tool to silence women, it talks about domestic violence be criminalised, anti-harassment laws and sexual assault laws be amended to and include all genders to be complainants, concrete actions be taken to curb child sexual abuse and exploitation, campuses be demilitarised and surveillance of students be ceased, justice for all the families of those who have been victims of enforced disappearances, Kashmiris’ right to self-determination be upheld, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2017 be implemented and quite a few other points are written in the manifesto.

It is okay to disagree, it is okay to have a different viewpoint. In fact, it is healthy to argue and have a differing opinion. However, it is NOT okay to threaten violence and give threats to the people supporting this march only because you don't agree with certain posters, it is NOT okay to dismiss an entire movement led by the citizens of this country by saying they are following "western agenda" and are foreign-funded. Again, bring us proof of this western agenda and foreign funds and we are happy to debate this.

Engage with us, talk to us, have a dialogue with us. And I can assure you that many people who very deeply believe in the Aurat March will take out time to listen to your concerns and answer your questions myself included.

Lastly, it is just one day. Women, men, children, elderly people, disabled people, minorities, transgenders and many many more will come out of the roads of Pakistan, talk about the challenges they face on a daily basis, hopefully come up with a solution, maybe dance and sing and then will leave. I am sure we can tolerate women coming out to talk about their issues and generally having a good time as well for ONE day, right?

And contrary to popular belief by many of our mard hazraat, this aurat march is NOT an attack on men. As I said in the beginning, many men will also be present there so come join us. And hopefully, many of your reservations will be cleared.