Monday April 22, 2024

Who is against ‘Aurat March’?

By Mazhar Abbas
March 05, 2020

From Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to Ms Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and up to Benazir Bhutto, prominent women leaders faced all kinds of opposition from those who felt challenged by their role in power politics, but the people still voted for women leaders even in the direct elections and also elected a woman as the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Both, Ms Jinnah and Benazir challenged the might of military dictators. The people responded and rejected the negative propaganda against them. While Ms Jinnah had to confront the first military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan and bear the vicious propaganda, former PM Benazir Bhutto and her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto faced detentions, house arrests and even 'edict' that a woman can't be elected as the head of the state or government.

But despite all odds in 1988, people voted BB to power making her the first elected women prime minister but not before some right-wing parties led by IJI, and backed by the then establishment, viciously used 'religious card' against her and Begum Nusrat Bhutto in IJI's public meeting of Lahore.

Had BB, not been assassinated on December 27th, 2007, there was every likelihood that she would have been elected as the prime minister for the third time. Ms Asma Jehangir, emerged as one of the most powerful voices of women during General Ziaul Haq's era and struggled for the rights of women throughout her life.

But the credit to bring women into the political mainstream also goes to the former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf as he increased record number of seats for women in the parliament, a law which was also retained by his successive rulers.

During the last three elected governments, there had been a number of pro-women legislation and even the hard-line religious parties except a few have reviewed their stance towards women's rights.

Since the mid-70s, women around the world observe March 8th, as the International Day for Women to highlight the injustices done against them and also recognise their role in the society as equal.

It was never an easy journey for them as they faced hardships, pressures, threats and even attacked while demanding their rights.

There can be a difference of opinion over the controversy during the last ‘Aurat March’ and on the display of certain slogans. Some religious groups termed them highly ‘objectionable,’ while the women defended them by saying that those were grossly misunderstood. In line with the tradition, different women organizations backed by mainstream political parties, including a strong group within ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, have decided to observe the day with ‘Aurat March’ in different parts of the country amid reports of threats from a section of hard-line groups.

The two mainstream religious parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami which has the largest and most organised women wing, have taken a more rational and political stance than Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, JUI-F. Interestingly, the Amir of JI, Senator Sirajul Haq announced a week-long campaign for women’s rights, accepting the fact that women have not been given equal rights in the society. Though some of its hardliners opposed the Aurat March, the JI has organized big rallies of women but refrained from giving tickets to women on direct seats, which is quite contradictory to the role its women leaders have played in mainstream politics.

However, the JUI (F) leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s threats to stop the Aurat March at all costs has left many bewildered. This is a volte-face for the JUI-F or Fazl’s own style of politics. Maulana’s remarks have also not gone down well even in the political circles where he was always considered as a rational politician. But last year, such threats were hurled by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, TLP, who have decided to adopt a low key this time around. So, why did the JUI-F, which last year did not oppose the ‘march’ has adopted such a radical approach this year? Their extent of action will also define the JUI’s changing political stance. The JUI-F leadership including Maulana Fazlur Rehman could face charges like ‘Incite violence’ if they resort to violence against the Aurat March. Is this the beginning of a more radical JUI-F led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a bid to stage a comeback in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa politics and emerge as a strong ally of the Taliban? It will be interesting to see the changing stance and politics of JUI in the coming months. Maulana was facing complete political isolation after his weeks long million march, fizzled out due to the non-cooperation of PPP and PML (N) and secondly by the ‘commitments’ made by Chaudhries of Gujrat.

The organisers of Aurat March in Sukkur, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and other cities have pledged to resist all kinds of pressure and threats. The Pakistan People’s Party, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and his sister Bakhtawar Bhutto have backed the march and asked the Sindh government to provide full security to them. Since 2002, due to the increasing women’s role in politics, they succeeded in getting enacted several pro-women legislation, like declaring honour killing a heinous crime and against sexual violence and harassment. Women legislators have also been elected as speaker and deputy speaker in the national and provincial assemblies since the 2008 elections.

Any violence on March 8th during the Aurat March could not only hurt Pakistan’s soft image at a time when the country is fighting against extremism but would also be a test for the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose government in principle has not opposed the Aurat March.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News, and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO