Fourteen-year-old Fouzia, resident of the Shireen Jinnah Colony, wakes up at 6am every day to make breakfast before her father, a driver, leaves for work. Then she gets her two younger brothers ready for school. At 7am she and her four sisters leave for Clifton, where they work as maids in different parts of the neighbourhood. Their mother takes care of the chores back at the house.
Fouzia is the eldest of her siblings. She and her sisters are school dropouts because their parents couldn’t afford sending them to school. Contrary to their societal norms, the five sisters seemed one of the most genuine participants of the most-talked-about Aurat March at the Frere Hall on Sunday evening, as they face the lowest forms of patriarchy in their lives.
Being present at the march with thousands of men and women from the affluent class, the sisters from the Shireen Jinnah Colony made an effort to break the glass ceiling, and challenge patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
“I wanted to study, but was asked by my mother to start working as a maid, as our family was facing financial problems,” said Fouzia, adding that she’s still very much willing to rejoin her school. The placard she was holding narrated her plight perfectly: “Eid is also for domestic workers. But what about leave?”
The young girl said: “We don’t get a day off, not even on Sundays. We have to work according to the moods of our employers.” Her younger sister Tehreem held a placard that read: “PaRhay gi tou baRhay gi” (Education will help you prosper).
The soul of this march is a woman who lives in a village or a less privileged area. Pushpa Kumari, 45, came all the way from her Mithi village to take part in the Aurat March along with 23 men and three women from her community.
“These are the women whose rights are subjugated and are killed in the name of so-called honour,” said Pushpa, adding that girls from her community are facing forced conversions on a daily basis while the media seem to have turned a blind eye.
The Aurat March has always faced controversy for their posters, such as “Mera jism meri marzi” (My body, my choice). It is being understood that such posters come from the affluent class, while the have-nots reflect their plight in other ways.
A certain segment of society expressed their sheer disappointment with regard to the recent comments of writer Khalilur Rehman Qamar. Arisha Salman, 19, a student of the Institute of Business Administration, carried a placard inscribed with a strong response to Qamar’s views.
“The reason I made this considerably harsh poster is because we don’t need more men like Khalilur Rehman. What we need from our men is to encourage women, and we don’t need pseudo-feminists like Qamar,” said Arisha.
Men show support
A large number of men showed up at the march to support women. One of them was Umer, communications manager of a vehicle-for-hire company, whose placard read: “She’s right” and had red arrows pointing in every direction.
“Whether a woman is out here talking about harassment or the fact that she wants to be able to do what she believes in, I support her,” he said, adding that his poster was to acknowledge that whatever the women around him were saying was correct. “This poster is validating what every other poster here is saying.” Not a taboo subject
Even in the 21st century, women are using pieces of cloth instead of pads during menstruation. Charted accountant Arfa Raza, resident of Clifton, held a placard that had pads glued to it and read: “Make sanitary pads free for women”.
Arfa shared how even her mother didn’t know about pads until she grew up. “There should be awareness about this issue in our women, so that they can lead a healthy life,” she said.
“In Pakistan we’re such emotional fools that we end up banning films like Padman. We have to see the message. We make it such a taboo that we don’t even want to talk about it. This is a pad ... and it’s a basic necessity.” Another such poster at the march read: “Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods”.
Mera Jism Meri Marzi
Performer and women’s rights activist Sheema Kermani held a play to explain the idea behind the controversial slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi”. The play showed a woman who had given birth to a fourth consecutive daughter, and her husband, who wanted another baby, frowned at her and said: “Tera jism meri marzi” (Your body, my choice).
After the fifth consecutive birth of a daughter, the husband divorced the woman. She then approaches law enforcers, who were also after her body. After the divorce she provided her daughters better education and shouted passionately: “Hamara jism, hamari marzi” (Our body, our choice). Sheema in the play shared how her body is her eyes, her thought, her expressions and words, and even her pen.
No woman, no entry
Four walkthrough gates were installed at the entrance of the Aurat March. A heavy contingent of police officials was deployed around the Frere Hall. Men without women were denied entry to the park.
A woman at the entrance in front of the Marriot Hotel kept announcing through loudspeakers that the march is exclusively for women, and that men who aren’t accompanied by women can’t enter the Frere Hall.
When this correspondent tried to pass through a walkthrough gate, the security personnel stopped him. After seeing his press card, they demanded where his microphone and video camera were.
Even after it was explained to them that newspaper reporters don’t carry a microphone or a video camera, the correspondent wasn’t allowed to enter. It was only after a female reporter was called from the inside, the correspondent was allowed entry.
Dr Aafia supporters
Women holding placards in favour of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who were standing at the walkthrough gates were also barred from entering the Frere Hall. They were shouting slogans such as “Riha karo, Aafia ko riha karo” (Free Aafia).
Dr Fouzia Siddiqui also showed up at the venue and was surprised to witness that women shouting slogans in favour of her sister weren’t allowed to be part of the march.
Sheema explained that while Dr Aafia was indeed a woman, her supporters were probably not allowed to become part of the march over security concerns.
When the participants of the women’s rally marched outside the Frere Hall, young men and women formed a human chain to secure them from any untoward incident.
A group of men also held a protest at the Metropole Hotel against the participants of the Aurat March. They were pushed back by the police. They shouted slogans such as “Women funded by the West are unacceptable” and “Marriage is a woman’s jewel”.
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