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Holding ‘patriarchy’s funeral’, Aurat March celebrates Women’s Day

By Zoya Anwer
March 09, 2018

Balancing little Haroon who sat with his elder sister Fariya on the edge of the stage, lady health worker, Salma was enthusiastically enjoying the performance of classical folk singer Mai Dhai and playing with her children to the rhythm of the tune.

Salma was one of the many women who had arrived at Frere Hall on Thursday evening to commemorate International Women’s Day by participating in the country’s first ever Aurat March.

In spite of the blazing sun, the venue’s central area was packed with hundreds of women from different professions and backgrounds as they all sat on the grass next to each other holding small orange and yellow flags of the Aurat March.

Helmed by a group of women from different walks of life, under the banner ‘Hum Aurtain’, the march was meant to highlight three primary demands – workers’ rights, environmental and reproductive justice and an absolute end to all kinds of violence and discrimination against women and all non-binary people.

Quoting Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, one of the organisers said in her address that a woman is often shackled by patriarchy, culture and the expectation of love from her family but if she is determined to make her way, then she breaks free from all chains which bring her down.

Addressing the gathered crowd, Dr Navin G Haider, a faculty member at the University of Karachi, spoke about her sexual harassment case at the varsity against Professor Sahar Ansari which she had to fight for a good two years.

“When I lodged my complaint against my harasser who was well-known in literary circles, I could sense a brotherhood which was helping him get away, because despite the ongoing case, his reputation was not being affected. However later due to a continuous struggle, I won the case,” she said.

Bushra Arain, a representative of lady health workers, said that earlier the women working in her field were exploited but now times were changing.

“Women who took up the essential job of creating medical awareness among women were thrown in jails when they asked for their rights,” she said. “Many of our workers who were sent to jail were abandoned by their husbands, but we continued to fight. Now we won’t ask for our rights. We will snatch them if need be.”

As the evening wore on, more people joined in as live qawali and theatre by Tehreek-e-Niswan were presented on stage and artist Sheema Kermani took turns with poet and activist Amar Sindhu to host the event.

Performing a short play, the troupe started off with the popular song ‘Hum Mayen, Behnain, Betiyan’ while Sheema called it out for associating women with honour, saying women were people, not someone’s honour.

When it was time to set out for the march, Amar reminded everyone that the day was dedicated to the burial of patriarchy. But while many thought her reference was figurative, it soon turned out that it wasn’t.

Carrying an orange flag representing the marchers’ demands, the group comprising girls and women bike riders then exited Frere Hall and walked towards the corner of Fatima Jinnah Road heading to Qauid-e-Azam Museum.

Halting the traffic for a bit, women marched on holding various placards and banners and shouting slogans like ‘Ghar ka Kaam, Sab ka Kaam’ and ‘Women are humans, not honour’. However, as many moved with the march, four participants wearing the masks of deceased social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch rushed forward holding a Charpoy with “patriarchy’s janaza” (funeral of patriarchy) on their shoulders.

Moreover, with transgender persons and men participating in the march, it could be seen that the event was also inclusive of non-binary people. Calling out the persistent transphobia in socity, one of the participants held a placard saying, “Transgender women are also women.”

The group re-entered Frere Hall after completing a round on the road. Speaking about the event, Sheema told The News that the group started mobilising at the beginning of the year with the idea that since women were marching for their rights all across the world, they felt it was important for women in Pakistan to raise their voice and show their strength as well.

“We also wanted to challenge the ideas and narrative put forward by the establishment and the state that women want to stay behind closed walls,” said Sheema. “It was supposed to be a show of unity, strength, power and desire for change. I am thrilled by the response that we were able to bring women from such diverse backgrounds together.”

She added that the aim of the march was also to prove that to counter the religious zealots, there is an uncountable number of women who want to live a life of freedom and equality which would help them fully realise their creative potential. Qurrat, an organiser of the Aurat March, said the fact that hundreds of women had turned up has indeed shown that women will no longer tolerate violence.

“The way we marched today and reclaimed our public space by ignoring all those men who are always up to pass lewd remarks, has filled us with new spirit to fight for our rights,” she said. “I would say that no matter how deeply entrenched patriarchy is, today was a day of victory for all women because so many of them stepped out of their houses to remind everyone of their determination.”

Shahtaj Qadier, a social media executive, who participated in the march, said she had usually been vocal about women’s rights but this time she wanted to be a part of a movement. “I’m glad it turned out to be really good and soul soothing. We should arrange such events more often for the sake of awareness among the people who are still slaves of patriarchy,” she said.

Ghazala Mushtaq who is associated with the education sector said that she marched for all those women who wished to pursue their dreams but weren’t allowed to do by the men in their lives.

“Since I am associated with the field of education, I have seen capable female students being pulled out of school even before completing their matriculation, which needs to end,” she said. “The government should make education compulsory for all. I marched today to secure the rights of my future generation. We spent our lives bearing with harassment and never knowing how to raise our voice. But my daughter has enabled me to raise my voice and here I feel liberated among so many women today,” she added.