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February 26, 2020

Let them march

Editorial

 
February 26, 2020

In a country where at least 1,000 women are killed in deaths motivated by ‘honour’ and one is raped almost every hour somewhere in the country, the Lahore High Court on Monday has taken notice of a startling petition demanding that the Aurat March be permanently banned. The LHC has issued notices to the federal and provincial governments to respond to the petitioner, Advocate Azhar Siddiqui, who seeks a ban on the march which has over the past two years metamorphised into a bigger event held on the occasion of International Women’s Day falling on March 8. The day has been recognized by the UN since 1977. Before this, it was primarily an event created by socialist women with the first holiday for women’s day declared in Soviet Russia in 1917. Perhaps women at the march should this year hold up red flags with the hammer and sickle to mark what it truly stands for.

The petitioner has argued absurdly that the purpose of women’s day is to appreciate the achievements of women and to express solidarity with those struggling against cruelty, discrimination and ignorance. In the first place, tens of thousands of women in Pakistan continue to struggle against just these factors. The brutal murder of domestic workers, the sordid rape of little girls, the battering of women within their homes and many other incidents are all examples of this. The petitioner has claimed that the Aurat March is in fact intended to spread anarchy, is against ‘the very norms of Islam’ and spreads vulgarity and hatred. He has suggested that anti-state parties are funding this event and that the slogans raised last year were intended to mislead women.

Since many basic rights such as the right to vote, the right to be protected against child marriage and the right to equal pay for equal work have now been recognized by the UN and most civilized governments, it is to be expected that women will seek more. There can be no possible threat to the state or to religion when women demand autonomy over reproductive rights, control over their bodies or respect within the home from men. The fact that the entire affair has created such a furore simply demonstrates the need for more women to come out on the streets and tell their stories. It is a pity that media publicity did not sufficiently cover the women workers, the domestic labourers and other oppressed women who also marched in most cities. Every demand made by women needs recognition. There cannot be ‘good’ demands and ‘bad’ ones. Women are equal citizens under our constitution. They must be recognized as such by their fellow citizens, governments and the state.