Monday April 22, 2024

Marching on

By Editorial Board
March 08, 2021

It has been a long journey – one that isn’t even half-way to its (much debated) destination. From the streets of Manhattan on March 8, 1908 to the International Women’s Socialist Movement in 1910 to the suffragettes to the activists in Latin America to the freedom fighters of Kashmir to the working women’s marches over the years in Pakistan and to the young women who bravely organise the Aurat March today, women’s activism has travelled through history, moved beyond geography and now stands part of the global conversation. Despite women marching, despite the real changes that have no doubt taken places across the world, it is still a fact that – across the world – women are still facing the challenge of somehow still being relegated to a secondary status for the most part – whether at home or at work.

The vast number of women who live on the globe suffer discrimination and oppression, especially in patriarchal societies such as ours where tradition is still widely used as an excuse to oppress women and deny them their rights as citizens. In Pakistan, women have seen a mixed bag as far as their fight for rights goes. The past few years have led them towards a more visibly political path, but since we are yet to see all of politics become accessible to the ordinary citizen, the same holds for women too. However, the entry of more women into politics is welcome regardless for the normalisation of women in the public sphere. Unfortunately, although there have been efforts towards enacting some pro-women legislation, the real challenge is to ensure these are implemented; and we have not seen many positive signs of that. It must also be reiterated that women’s struggle for equality does not end with a few pieces of legislation – however good the intentions of the lawmakers might be. The opening up of the media may have made women more visible in the country but representations of Pakistani women still tend to remain stereotyped in a largely increasingly consumerist culture.

The inherent patriarchy embedded in Pakistan has also been compounded by the little-talked-about consequences of war and conflict on women. Fortunately, women continue to battle for this, with younger women now stepping forward to take the battle further ahead and avoid being pushed back into obscurity and behind walls. We see this each year at the ‘Aurat March’ held in major cities around the country. Increasingly, the event has been taken over by more radical young feminists who demand rights to health, reproduction, freedom of movement and also question why even today so many women carry the sole burden of housework often while also working outside the home. And in all this let us not forget the origins of International Women’s Day (at a conference of socialist women) – the struggle of women workers. It is only with a spirit of inclusivity that the rights of all women in Pakistan will remain protected, not just those who have the privilege of a better education and financial comfort. Only then, can there be a steady march forward, and a real change brought about in the lives of women across our country.