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March 9, 2021

Marchers mark International Women’s Day with demands for equality, end to violence

Karachi

March 9, 2021

Victoria, an elderly woman with five children, four of whom are daughters and married, hails from Umer Brohi Goth near the Northern Bypass. Since her house is far from her employer’s and the public transport route does not include a convenient drop-off point for her, she is forced to live with her son and manages to visit home only on the weekends.

She works as a caretaker for elderly patients in different homes in Karachi. She wakes up at 3am, offers her prayers, has her breakfast and leaves for work as early as 5am, getting back by 9pm. “This is my daily routine. Only if the government provides a decent transport facility for women, I can go home daily,” she says politely.

Victoria seems to be one of the most deserving participants of the Aurat March held at the Frere Hall on Monday evening. She faces the lowest forms of patriarchy in society.

‘Immoral’

A transgendered teenager returns home after buying some yogurt from a local dairy shop and complains to his mother how the shopkeeper had harassed him, but before he could be comforted, his father shows up and swears at him for being “immoral”. Nevertheless, the mother consoles the teen, arguing that immoral are those who ridicule and make fun of their child.

This was the tableau presented on Monday to display and shun the toxic masculinity and patriarchy prevalent in society at the Frere Hall, where the most-talked-about Aurat March was being held.

The Frere Hall was filled with marchers on International Women’s Day, with women, and many men as well, holding their placards as they began setting about their march along Club Road against a range of issues, but with one common demand: to end the violation of women’s rights.

“Continuing marginalisation of women means war,” shouted the crowd sporadically as the slogan was stimulated by the centre stage, where many groups were given space and time to share their woes against the system and how it exploited the weak instead of empowering them.

Toxic masculinity

Twenty-year-old arts student Fatima held a placard that read: “Tere liye hee tou signal tor taar ke aaya toxic masculinity chhor chhaar ke” (I ran all the red lights for you, giving up my toxic masculinity too).

The slogan was actually based on a line from an Indian song that goes: “Tere liye hee tou signal tor taar ke aaya Dilli wali girlfriend chhor chhaar ke” (I ran all the red lights for you, leaving my girlfriend back in Delhi).

Explaining her placard, Fatima said that she does not expect her boyfriend to abandon other girls just to be with her. “If you have to win my heart, you have to give up toxic masculinity. That’s all.”

Sabrina Rose Bhatti held a placard inscribed with a slogan based on another Indian song. Hers read: “Yunhi koi creep mil gaya tha sare raah chalte chalte” (a creep showed up as I was on my way).

She explained that women in our society are not allowed to move freely on the city’s roads. “When we walk, we’re met with unwanted gaze,” she said, adding that some people pass comments and make women uncomfortable. “Some people react in a way like they’ve never seen a lone woman walking down the road.”

She recalled one of her personal experiences of public harassment. “Once I was waiting for my bus alone when about 10 men surrounded me,” she said.

She pointed out that had it been one or two men, she would have found the confidence to confront them, “but to stand against an army was scary”. “I froze,” she recalled, saying that a rickshaw driver had come to her rescue, sensing that something was wrong.

Bicycle ride

The Greenstar Social Marketing (GSM) organised an International Women’s Day Bicycle Ride celebrating the women who inspire, drive innovation, create magic and make an impact every single day.

The GSM, whose existence is centred on women’s health and well-being, like every year, recognised Women’s Day as an opportunity to raise awareness on women’s health, especially among the young women of Pakistan, this year with the theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’.

Around 150 women from different walks of life participated in the bicycle ride, where the women were appreciated for their valuable contributions to a healthy female population, towards nation-building and socio-economic sustainability.

GSM CEO Dr Syed Azizur Rab said that the event was a roaring success, as they received an overwhelming response from women of all ages. “We also thank the other key stakeholders, including the academia, the media, the civil society and the relevant governmental institutions, who have promised to extend every possible support to enable more empowerment and healthy nurturing of our female population.”

The GSM has been operating as the largest private institution to improve Pakistan’s reproductive health-services for the past 30 years. It inspires the population by voluntarily delivering safe and reliable quality contraceptive products at affordable prices, and delivering valuable family planning information. The GSM acts as an independent member of the global network Population Services International.

One of the participants at the rally said that their theme is to choose challenge. “I choose to challenge all inequalities and differences we face on a daily basis,” she said.

‘Abolish slavery’

Speakers at the working women rally organised by the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) said that the development of society is not possible without giving equal participation to women in the production process and policymaking, adds our correspondent.

They said that the inhuman and unjust discrimination against women, especially against female workers, has terrified society. They demanded that all discriminatory laws against women be annulled, the feudal and tribal system that has kept women in slavery for centuries be abolished, and women be given protection at workplaces.

They urged establishing vigilance committees against harassment at all institutions in accordance with the law, legislating to stop sexual harassment of Hari women, especially Hindu women, and stopping forced conversions of minority women.

They demanded equal wages be given for equal work, wages be raised in proportion with price hike, and maternity leave of women workers not only be increased but be practically implemented.

They said that maximum daily working hours should not be exceed eight hours, and that the practice of forced work on weekly holidays should be stopped. The speakers included Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Co-Chair Asad Iqbal Butt, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research Executive Director Karamat Ali, the HBWWF’s Zehra Khan, the NTUF’s Nasir Mansoor, the United Home-Based Garment Workers Union’s representative and the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Saeed Baloch among others.

‘A human first’

A rally led by Sindh Minister for Women’s Development Syeda Shehla Raza walked from the provincial assembly to the Karachi Press Club. The participants of the rally held banners and placards, sang special songs and shouted various slogans.

Shehla said on the occasion that International Women’s Day commemorates the sacrifices and struggles of women. “The role of women is crucial in the shaping of any successful society.” She said that Fatima Jinnah not only supported her brother Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah but also struggled alongside him. She also said that women do not deserve to be judged on the basis of or known only by the relationship they have with men.