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ISLAMABAD: Thousands took to the streets across the globe to mark the International Women´s Day on Sunday despite the coronavirus outbreak forcing the cancellation of a slew of events in Asia, as violence marred some European gatherings.
In China — the epicentre of the epidemic that has killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide —state broadcaster CCTV highlighted the work of female medical workers on the frontlines in the fight against the virus.
Despite growing fears over the worsening epidemic, marches went ahead in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines while women also rallied in Pakistan demanding “freedom”.
A women´s marathon planned in India was postponed over virus concerns as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said prominent women would run his social media accounts for the day.
France saw a clutch of virus deaths take its virus toll to 16 Saturday but Paris hosted several rallies — one of which saw violence which organisers blamed on the police. A rally in Kyrgyzstan also turned violent as the police detained dozens of protesters — mainly women — after masked men attacked them and tore up their placards in the capital Bishkek.
A police spokesman said they were detained for their own safety and because police had not been warned about the rally.
In South Korea, where more than 7,000 virus infections make it the hardest hit country outside China, several events were cancelled.
“Although we can´t be physically together, our minds for realising gender equality are stronger than ever,” the country´s gender equality minister Lee Jung-Ok said in a video message.
Many feminist groups held online campaigns instead of street marches, using hashtags such as #FemaleStrike, #PowerUp and #38InternationalWomensDay to raise awareness of gender inequality. In Bangkok, protesters called for improved labour protections amid the epidemic that has infected dozens in Thailand, and greater rights under a military-aligned government.
Organisers blamed virus fears for the fact that the turnout was lower than last year.
Hundreds of women and men rallied in Manila, burning a giant effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte — who they accuse of misogyny — to mark the day.
“Violence and poverty among women are getting worse,” Joms Salvador of women´s group Gabriela told AFP.
“While we have 37 laws related to women´s rights, on the ground what is happening is a widespread violence in the forms of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape,” he said.
A big crowd turned out in Melbourne to watch the women´s Twenty20 World Cup final between India and Australia. US singer Katy Perry, wearing an outfit emblazoned with the female symbol, performed her hit single “Roar” ahead of the game.
Rallies were smaller than usual in virus-hit Europe.
“Who´s doing the washing up?” they chanted. “We are making a revolution”.
But rights groups and politicians denounced what they said was police violence at a women´s march in Paris the night before, after scuffles broke out and police arrested nine people.
Paris mayor Paris Anne Hidalgo, currently seeking re-election, said she was shocked at the “unacceptable and incomprehensible” violence and expressed her solidarity with the demonstrators.
Some women tweeted pictures of marchers left battered and bruised, prompting Europe Ecology-The Greens party secretary Julien Bayou to blast what he termed “absolutely unjustifiable police violence”.
Elsewhere, women also turned out in force in Iraq and Lebanon, while Mexico, which has long battled deep-rooted gender violence, was to stage rallies, notably in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez.
Back in Europe, Italian President Sergio Mattarella recorded a video message with much of the country in coronavirus lockdown, regretting the need to avoid large-scale gatherings.
Instead, he elected to “express a grateful thought to the women — and there are many — who are working in hospitals... in the red (quarantine) zones to fight the spread of the virus that worries us today.”
Up to 500 women took part in a sunrise swim at Portobello beach in Edinburgh for International Women’s Day, braving the cold waters to celebrate.
In Australia supporters wore purple to mark International Women’s Day during the Women’s T20 World Cup final match between Australia and India at the MCG in Melbourne.
Members of the women’s movement FEMEN have staged a protest on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, calling for an end to patriarchy.
Demonstrators from Extinction Rebellion protested in London today, arguing that the ‘climate is a women’s issue’. Thirty one women formed a topless chain on Waterloo Bridge in London, with the words ‘Climate Rape’ written on their bodies.
In Afghanistan, a handful of people took to the streets to mark Women´s Day.
University graduate Tahmina Ghoori said while urban Afghan women have seen some progress since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, they still face many challenges due to “gender inequality and the misogynistic views in our society”.
She was especially worried about the possibility of the insurgents returning to power on the back of a US-Taliban deal signed last month.
“We have left a dark era behind, my concern is that if they make a comeback, we will go through the same situation, and women´s rights will be trampled again,” she told AFP.
In Islamabad, about 1,000 women and men gathered to call for greater reproductive and other rights.
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) police averted a possible clash between the participants of Aurat March and Haya March.
The participants of both the marches gathered in front of the National Press Club to express their sentiments. The police divided the participants of both the marches through ropes, barbed wires and tent sheets.
Women from the Jamaat-e-Islami, (JI), JUI-F, Lal Masjid and female students of different seminaries staged the Haya March.
The situation became tense when a boy wearing an ‘Abbaya’ and wielding a baton in his hands appeared among the participants of Aurat March.
Meanwhile, the participants of Haya March chanted slogans and some of them hurled stones and batons at the participants of the Aurat March; however the police dispersed them averting a possible violence.
“The women in Pakistan are considered property by their male counterparts,” said Tahira Maryum, 55. “There is nothing vulgar in asking for your rights,” she added.
At the Islamist counter-protest, dozens of women in burqas held their own placards including one saying “Anti-Feminist”, while shouting “Our bodies, Allah´s choice”.
Ismat Khan, a 33-year-old woman, said women´s rights activists were “naive” and being exploited by non-government groups and “the Jewish lobby”.
“We are free and to live our lives are according to Sharia,” she told AFP.
Condemning stone pelting at the participants of Aurat March in Islamabad, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sunday demanded an investigation and arrest of those responsible and the facilitators.
In a statement, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Hussain Bokhari said those involved in the incident should be tried as per the law of the land.
Spokesman for the PPP Chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar condemned the incident saying it was a coward act to scare women with sticks, stones and through bad language.
He demanded legal action against all those who were responsible for this incident.
In Karachi, advocates of women’s rights held the Aurat March at the Frere Hall Garden. Spokesperson for the Sindh government Barrister Murtaza Wahab also participated in the Aurat March with his family.
A march was also held by members of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) from Arts Council to Karachi Press Club.
Sadia Salahuddin and Sher Ali Khalti add from Lahore: Hundreds of people including women, men and transgenders came with their posters and placards highlighting different issues and demands - the one common theme being human rights, particularly for women. It was heartening to see young men and women participate in a large number in the Aurat March.
The march started from the Lahore Press Club and ended at Khayaban-e-Aiwan-e-Iqbal. Women kept chanting slogans and beating drums. They were demanding equality in society. The major thrust was against the patriarchal system that tries to dictate and regulate women and has disregard for their will. The first five demands of the Aurat March manifesto was economic empowerment. There were posters that demanded bridging the wage gap; “The same pay for the same work is our right”, “My work, my right” and “We are not asking for any special rights, only basic human rights”, “Read our manifesto before criticism.”
While the march was a voice against patriarchy it was as much a celebration of the fact that women are women. Despite the fact that the march was regulated and censored as the organisers said, the banners the participants carried, read many things. A man carried a poster that said, “Domestic violence not a domestic matter.” Families were also there. A mother was holding a placard, “My daughter but her volition.” A young man who was with his family was holding a banner that read, “My sister but her volition.” Another poster said, “House chores shared responsibility of men and women”, yet another read, “My husband holds the door for me, pays our expenses and spoils me. I do the same for him yet, guess what? The sky didn’t fall.” Rights activist Tanveer Jahan said that participation of men along with their daughters, sisters and life partners shows that demands of women are fair and good.
Other banners read, “Hitting women unacceptable”, “Stop hitting women”, “Women happy, society prosperous”, “Feminist is not anti-men, it is pro-human”, “I want to live life on my terms without hearing what will people say”, “I want to walk the streets freely without fear”, “No cat calling” and “Asking for our rights is not shamelessness.” The march organisers demanded enforcing laws against domestic violence.
There were people who held banners that demanded justice for particular groups or highlighted the troubled situation in certain areas. Justice Project Pakistan approached people at the march to sign a petition to commute a schizophrenic patient Kanizan Bibi’s death sentence into life imprisonment. She has served 30 years in jail and should be allowed to go, it pleads. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan also contains safeguards against double punishment, and under our law, Kanizan cannot be forced to serve two life sentences as well as face execution, it said.
A Hazara girl also addressed people in the march. She said, “Hazara women have lost over 5,000 of their men. The genocide has stopped but we are not getting our basic rights.” The organisers announced that Women Democratic Front will form committees to fight price hike. A poster read, “2020 barely started and 54 sisters and daughters already raped or murdered – why I march,” “Stop forced conversion”, “Child labour unacceptable”, “1304 children raped in six months – I march for our children who deserve better” and “Shame the culprit, not the victim”.
A young women’s rights activist, Asma Aamir, was chanting slogan, “Aadhi abadi hun mein, aqal ki aadhi nahi” which means that “women are half of the population, they are not halfwit”. Holding her placard, she stressed that it is time to break the silence against myths and gender stereotypes; and need to pay high attention to “equality where it matters”. Shahida Jabeen, a PPP member, said the march had shaken the patriarchal system in Pakistan.
Bushra Khaliq, a women rights activist, said women wanted equality in every walk of life. A girl carried a placard, “I marched for rape victims”. “Stop harassment of children,” read another placard. Saba Hakeem present in the march, said “we don’t want permission rather want right of life.” “We are not commodity“ a girl carried a placard. They should be given rights accorded in the Constitution of Pakistan. Nighat Dad said women wanted independence. “Give me rights or we will fight” a slogan echoed. All women of the march said they wanted freedom. According to them women will rule and the system would be changed. A girl said, “women were not given freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of speech”. A girl carrying a controversial banner had to part with the banner. The administration took it away. “Don’t consider a woman booty/ Mal-e-ghaneemat (Aurat ko ab maal-e-ghaneemat mat kehna” a girl had a placard.
Asma Aamir said, “I am indebted to women before me who made countless efforts for women’s rights and I am determined to stand up against patriarchy, and be a young woman advocate for gender equality in Pakistan so that every woman and girl enjoy their rights fully. I am also very optimistic the young women population in Pakistan is getting more awareness through marches and various women’s initiatives by civil society organisations are enabling them to stand for their rights in every walk of life.” The Aurat March has put a picture on its Instagram account of a poster that says, “Transwomen are real women”. Women police guarded the Aurat March.
Similarly, women staged rallies in Peshawar, Quetta, Sukkur, Multan, Bahawalpur, Okara, Hafizabad, Toba Tek Singh and other cities.
Prime Minister Imran Khan Sunday said the observance of International Women’s Day was reiteration of the government’s commitment to undertake every possible effort to ensure equal rights and opportunities to the women.
“In this effort, we are guided by the teachings of our religion, the Seerat of Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the core values that distinguish our society,” he said in a message.
He further said it was indeed encouraging to see that the Pakistani women were proving their mettle in every walk of life and achieving excellence in their respective fields at the national and international level.
“I firmly believe that inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development can only be ensured by providing equal opportunities and a conducive environment to our women.
I reaffirm my pledge on this day to take all measures that would help our women to lead a safe, secure and prosperous life,” the PM office media wing quoted the prime minister as saying.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa paid tribute to the women for their pivotal role in nation-building.
In a tweet Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar quoted the COAS as saying, “Our tribute to all women of Pakistan, who have played pivotal role in nation building in all segments of our society.
Our brave mothers, sisters, daughters, especially our martyrs’ families and those serving in armed forces are pride of our nation.”