In a first for Pakistan, this year’s International Women’s Day drew out crowds of women on the streets of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
Lahore: In a first for Pakistan, this year’s International Women’s Day drew out crowds of women on the streets of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. With #MeToo picking up, more women than ever before are going public with the harassment and abuse they’ve encountered. Pakistan too has had an awakening with more people talking about women’s rights and sexual abuse after Qandeel and Zainab’s murders. Asma Jahangir’s loss also fueled women to come out and pay respect to the woman who fought tirelessly for women rights.
Karachi’s Frere Hall, Lahore’s Lytton Road and Islamabad’s Press Club were meeting points for the women who came out to highlight these issues.
‘Aurat March’ was planned and organised entirely by a diverse group of women belonging to different ethnicities, classes and sections of society. The march itself was not linked to a particular organization, political party or group. In fact, it included representatives from the Awami Workers Party, the Feminist Collective, the Women’s Collective and Girls at Dhabas among others. That’s what makes it more significant - it was a collective effort, not spearheaded by any one entity, making it a movement that all Pakistani women (and men who support women’s rights) can own.
The Aurat March, spearheaded by Sheema Kermani and the independent rights organization, ‘Hum Aurtain’ was originally meant for Karachi. The idea inspired similar women’s rights organizations and progressive forums in Lahore and Islamabad. While the numbers were not as high in Islamabad and Lahore as they were in Karachi, there was still a significant presence that made its way to show their solidarity.
The crowd in each city grew as everyone kept marching on from the starting point till the crowds dispersed. Women (and men) held placards and banners and shouted slogans like ‘Ghar ka Kaam, Sab ka Kaam’ and ‘Women are humans, not honour’. They had placards that read ‘paratha rolls not gender roles’, ‘freedom not fear’ and ‘our rights are not up for grabs, neither are we’. Women wore t-shirts that read ‘my favorite season is the fall (of patriarchy)’ and ‘girls just want fun-damental human rights’. Some wore masks of deceased social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch and one group held a charpoy that said ‘patriarchy’s janaza’ (funeral of patriarchy) on their shoulders. A number of prominent personalities put out social media messages in solidarity with those who were marching. There was a video montage circulated of celebrities and activists saying ‘equal’ and ‘barabar’ - many of whom also participated in the walk.
According to the organisers of the event, the goal was to get women to come out on the streets and help them reclaim public spaces. Leena Ghani, one of the organisers of the Lahore march told Instep that Lahore’s march was in solidarity with Karachi’s.
“The Karachi march was much bigger because they had been planning it for longer but it was heartening to see that every woman felt it was inclusive.”
She shared how women were most happy about reclaiming public spaces and feeling safe on the streets.
The women said they were marching in solidarity with women all over the country and globally, as a promise to carry the torch of resistance until women were treated equally in the society. The agenda was to start conversation around and demand fundamental rights as women, including an end to violence against women, labour rights, reproductive rights, environmental justice, anti-sexual assault laws, wage equality, fair political representation and opportunities, education equality, equality for the transgender community and an end to child marriage and honour killings.
The events in all three cities were open to the public and women from all walks of life came out. There were also some men and a large representation from different schools, colleges and universities present on the occasion. The march was quite a landmark in Pakistan’s women’s rights movement and one can only hope it’s the beginning of change.