With the aim to eliminate forced marriages in her home town Badin, Isra stepped out of her house on International Women’s Day (IWD) on Tuesday. Once a woman crosses a certain age, she is forced to get married against her own will just to fit into society’s framework, she lamented.
Holding a placard at the Aurat March that read ‘Aap Ki Zindagi, Aap Ka Faisla’ (your life, your decision), she said that parents resort to blackmailing their daughters to marry them off. “It is against Islam. In Islam everyone has the right to marry of their own free will,” she pointed out, saying that when it comes to marriages, everyone forgets Islam and brings out antiquated societal norms.
This year’s Aurat March kicked off at Bagh-e-Jinnah under the theme of ‘Wage, Security and Peace’. One of the most talked about events, Aurat March traditionally takes place at the Frere Hall, but due to choosing a different venue this year, many participants found it hard to reach it.
With the intention to break the glass ceiling, and challenge patriarchy and toxic masculinity, Fatima, 24, decided to become an artist instead of a doctor, against her family’s wishes. Her family wanted her to become a doctor so she could get married to a nice man.
“My cousins and family think that a girl should be a doctor so that they get good marriage proposals,” she said, holding a placard that read ‘Jee, Larki Artist Hai’ (yes, the girl is an artist). “People judge me, thinking that since I have studied arts, I probably have a bad character.”
Police and Rangers surrounded the Jinnah Ground while the Aurat March organisers had also arranged their own security. A heavy contingent of female police was also deployed in and outside the venue. Only women and men with families or women were allowed to go inside.
A woman at the entrance kept announcing through a megaphone that the march was exclusively for women, and that men who were not accompanied by women would not be allowed to enter. Special passes were issued to the media. The web channels that entered without media passes were repeatedly asked through a megaphone to refrain from taking interviews of the Aurat March participants. A harassment camp was also set up at the venue where special volunteers were deployed to address any untoward incident.
Maisha’s poster at the Aurat March was about honour. She said patriarchy links honour with women. “Patriarchy places Izzat [honour] on the bodies of women, which is wrong.” Ayesha’s placard was about the theme of the Aurat March. “Women go through a lot of emotional and physical labour. They have the role of a mother, a wife and even a sister,” she said, adding that their labour is usually discounted.
Several women who lost their homes in anti-encroachment operations at in the Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah areas also participated in the Aurat March under the banner of the Karachi Bachao Tehreek and shared their plight. One of the women shared that now that their houses have been demolished, they are forced to live on the rubble and they do not even have a toilet to use.
Awards for journalists
The Karachi Press Club (KPC) held an award distribution ceremony for female journalists who have made noteworthy contributions in their field. The University of Karachi’s acting vice chancellor Dr Nasira Khatoon and former chairperson of KU’s Department of Mass Communication were chief guests on the occasion.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s Women Wing held a walk at the KPC to demand women’s due rights in society, adds our correspondent. Students, professionals and women from all walks of life participated in the activity. Holding placards and banners, they shouted slogans for women’s rights and against allegedly misleading slogans that do not reflect Pakistani women’s original
JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman demanded that the government ensure the provision of women’s due rights. “Prevailing capitalist order of the world is usurping the rights of both women and men. Both corporate culture and feudalism are responsible for women’s miseries.”
Karo-Kari, women’s marriage to the Holy Quran and other cases of cruelty are reported in the areas of influence of feudal lords enjoying the treasury benches in the legislative assemblies, he said.
He said that the protection of women’s rights and the provision of equal opportunities to them for progress and development is not on the government’s list of priorities. JI Women Wing General Secretary Tasneem Moazzam said that Islamic teachings safeguard women’s rights and suggest the right path to both women and men. Atiya Nisar of the party stressed the need of a sound family to ensure women’s protection and care.
The Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) held a rally from Fawara Chowk to the Arts Council, where women workers presented their cultural show. HBWWF General Secretary Zehra Khan said violence against women has risen to an alarming level. Women are not safe at home, on the streets, in neighbourhoods, factories, offices and educational institutions, she added.
She said that an estimated 70 plus per cent of women face domestic violence, while Pakistan is the third most dangerous country in the world in violent actions against women, especially murders. “Every fifth woman murdered under so-called honour killing belongs to Pakistan.”
She said that in Pakistan’s educational institutions incidents of harassment and violence against female students and employees have increased sharply, but cases of murders and suspicious suicides are being also reported continuously. Besides women, children and transgender persons are also facing sexual violence, she added.
Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Nuzhat Shireen said that in this region women are the most affected section of society due to wars and terrorism in the name of religion.
She said millions of women and children are forced to migrate and live in miserable conditions. Similarly, disappearances of political and social workers are also affecting women mentally and economically while they are strongly protesting against these cruelties, she added.
The rally’s participants demanded equal wages for equal work, a raise in wages proportionate to inflation, ending gender-based disparity in wages and registering all workers, including home-based workers, with social security and pension institutions.
They also demanded increasing pre- and post-maternity leave, giving fully paid leave to women workers during childbirth, protecting women workers against workplace harassment and forming vigilance committees against harassment in all institutions.
Main drivers of success
“Women can play an important role in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and bringing economic prosperity in any country. They are the main drivers of success in any country, and entrepreneurship is the key to giving economic empowerment to women,” said Martin Dawson, British deputy head of mission, Karachi.
He was addressing an event titled ‘Emerging Women for Peace: Closing and Success Sharing Ceremony’, which was arranged by the Women Development Foundation Pakistan (WDFP) at a hotel. He said that while attending various events in connection with IWD, he met many women working on entrepreneurship and who have started businesses. “I am overwhelmed to see women in Karachi working on peacebuilding and interfaith harmony.”
He also presented awards to senior journalists, including Sheher Bano from The News, Mona Siddiqui from Neo News, Maria Ismail from Awami Awaz and Shabbir Ahmed Arman from Express News, for their work on highlighting women’s issues and promoting interfaith harmony. WDFP CEO Sabiha Shah said that only participation of women in all fields of life can restore peace and harmony in the world and bring economic prosperity.
A group of rights activists, including Voice of Justice Sindh President Ali Bastian, MQM-P MPA Mangla Sharma, Naghma Sheikh, Safina Javed and Humayoon Waqar, told a news conference titled ‘Break the Bias’ at the KPC that religious minority women are particularly helpless and no mechanisms are designed to protect them.
They said that cases of sexual abuses or abductions of women from religious minorities often go unreported, but even when they are reported, they are rarely addressed by the law enforcement authorities.
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