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March 6, 2019

Aurat March to be held this Friday to mark International Women’s Day

Karachi

March 6, 2019

As shopkeepers and their customers and passing motorcyclists — all men — looked on, a group of women and transgender persons held a news conference at the main entrance of the Empress Market on Tuesday to announce the Aurat March, which will be held this Friday to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Marking the global day with the slogan “Aao haq ki baat karein phir say” (Let’s talk about rights again), under the banner of Hum Aurtein (We the women), the activists from different religious and social backgrounds had picked the venue for their announcement to show solidarity with the shopkeepers affected by the anti-encroachment drive under way across Karachi.

They particularly spoke about gender pay gap, economic justice, violence, political participation and reproductive justice. They also highlighted different issues faced by women at home and at work. They demanded implementing the relevant laws, ensuring gender parity and ending subjugation of women by men.

The activists stressed uniting women and non-binary and transgendered persons for the cause of gender justice to bring collective social change on the basis of inclusion, dignity, freedom and equality.

Collective effort

“The Aurat March will underline diverse issues affecting women from all backgrounds, colours, creeds and professions,” said Tehrik-e-Niswan founder Sheema Kermani. “We express solidarity for the connected nature of our struggles and work together to dismantle the system of oppression and exploitation.”

She said the Aurat March is a collective effort of all women, not led by a single group or organisation but planned by Hum Aurtein that represents all women of different religions, ethnicities, classes and section of society.

“We have campaigned in different neighbourhoods to mobilise housewives, home-based workers, teachers, nurses, women lawyers and even female vendors for the Aurat March. Last year around 5,000 women had participated in the demonstration. But this year the number of participants is expected to double.”

Further legislation

Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Nuzhat Sheerin said that all women have the right to make a decision about their pregnancy and childbirth and have access to quality and affordable reproductive health services. “We demand the right to make a decision about our bodies free from oppression and control.”

She said the government is not taking tangible measures to counter violence against women, adding that there is a need to have further legislation and their strict implementation. “Women are not aliens, but society should first accept them as a human being and then as women.”

She said women’s political participation is mandatory for the growth of democracy and society. Thus, she added, the state should ensure high participation of women in all platforms, including political parties and decision-making bodies.

Lawyer Shumaila Hussain Shahani said there is no anti-harassment in courts, bar associations and law firms, despite the fact that the federal government had introduced the relevant law in 2010.

Minorities

Ghazala Shafique of the Christian Resource Welfare Centre said women of the monitory communities are facing many difficulties, including forced conversion, abduction for marriage and harassment. “We will participate in the Aurat March to highlight these issues and seek their solutions.”

Seema Maheshwari said minority communities, especially Hindus, are the most oppressed and vulnerable sections of our society. “A platform like the Aurat March will provide an opportunity to Hindu women to raise their voices against oppression.”

Demolition drive

Jothi, who represented the Empress Market’s female dry fruit vendors, said: “It’s very hard for women to find suitable jobs. Therefore, many of our courageous women had been selling dry fruits on the road in front of the Empress Market for the past many years.”

She lamented that “the recent demolition drive has snatched our sole livelihood”, saying that this problem must be addressed on a forum that acknowledges the importance of women’s empowerment.

Qurat Mirza of the Women’s Action Forum said: “We selected the Empress Market for the news conference because Hum Aurtein believes that many families suffered unemployment due to the demolition campaign.”

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