Resistance and hope

March 17, 2024

There were barbed wires, blockades and counter-protestors from a local seminary but the marchers were resolute, in keeping with this year’s theme of resistance and hope

Resistance and hope


s organisers of Aurat March Islamabad sat in the middle of the trenches dug up at the ground in front of the National Press Club, the arrangements were humble - one of their banners from Aurat March was used as a sitting mat and a crate as a table for the media microphones. The message, however, was strong, loud and clear: the struggle for gender equality would not be deterred by intimidation or violence.

The calm atmosphere of the press conference was in sharp contrast to the events of the preceding day, March 8th, when peaceful demonstrators were prevented from advancing towards D Chowk.

The practice is all too familiar. For six years now, the activists have assembled in front of the National Press Club, amidst parallel marches organised in the vicinity. Law enforcement resorts to force to contain the marchers. There is tension between the police and the marchers throughout. The march ends at D Chowk where participants sit down for speeches and performances before they disperse.

This year, the Aurat March was confined to the National Press Club. The rally failed to proceed to the D Chowk. Before the march could reach D Chowk, students of a famous madrassa had already convened at the location. Roads connecting the National Press Club to D Chowk were obstructed by the administration using barbed wires, causing traffic congestion in adjoining areas. The participants of the march tried to go around the blockade but encountered resistance. In the end, the organisers decided to remain at the NPC ground and proceeded with their activities there.

“The participants included senior citizens and children. They were ready to march to D Chowk and breach the blockade to assert their rights. However, considering the circumstances, we opted to remain at the NPC to avoid potential harm,” said Farzana Bari, one of the organisers. “Regrettably, this has become an annual occurrence where the Aurat March faces restrictions imposed by the administration or harassment by extremist segments. Our decision to stay at the NPC was made with the safety of the participants in mind. We will continue our struggle and will again gather next year to claim our right to peaceful assembly.”

Attendance at this year’s Aurat March was less than usual. The participants held placards bearing empowering slogans, advocating for women’s rights and liberation. They also demanded freedom and justice for Palestinian women. Many had donned keffiyehs (Palestinian scarves) and played Palestinian resistance songs.

The central theme of this year’s march was resistance and hope. “It’s evident that the state has failed to uphold constitutional rights. Those who speak out often face repercussions. It’s inspiring to see that many of the resistance movements are spearheaded by young women,” remarked Farzana Bari. “We hold hope in these movements, believing that through unity, they possess the capacity to forge a world free from discrimination and injustice.”

Resistance and hope

The charter of demands presented on this occasion listed 42 demands covering nine areas including promotion of hope and world peace; end of gender-based patriarchal violence; action against cyber harassment; end of enforced disappearance; political rights for women; end to period poverty; improved access to universal education and healthcare and rights of religious minorities.

Speaking at the press conference organised the next day, Aurat March Islamabad organisers sought a public apology from Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif for the treatment meted out to Aurat March participants by the Islamabad administration on the International Women’s Day. They called upon the government to take action against the police for the brutality and discrimination faced by the Aurat March.

“Despite several attempts by us to obtain a No Objection Certificate from the district administration, Aurat March has been denied NOC for five years. This means that state has an anti-Aurat March policy,” the statement issued by the organisers at the press conference said.

Speaking to the media, the organisers said that every year Aurat March Islamabad supporters had faced police brutality and institutionalised patriarchal violence in the form of baton charges, unwarranted obstruction and intimidation by the district administration and Islamabad Police.

“This year as well, we were pushed back by the police. The lives of elderly women, pregnant mothers and women with disability were in danger. They were manhandled, put in danger and threatened. The police action not only violates our constitutional rights but also undermines the principles of democracy and freedom of expression” they said.

They said that the International Women’s Day held profound significance for women across the globe, serving as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and justice. “By preventing us from exercising our democratic right to protest peacefully, the authorities have shown a blatant disregard for the voices and concerns of women in Pakistan. On the other hand, the administration provided protocol and access to Haya March. The violent fundamentalist group is mobilised every year to prevent Aurat March Islamabad from happening.”

They demanded accountability of those responsible for the administrative actions. “Haya March organisers have publicly issued life threats to Women March participants. Yet, Islamabad Police took no action against them.”

They demanded an inquiry from the government into why Haya March was provided protection but Aurat March was denied access to D Chowk. They said that the women parliamentarians has a responsibility to raise their voice against what happened on March 8th in Islamabad. They also criticized Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for not issuing a statement in support of the Aurat March participants.

The writer is a reporter for The News International

Resistance and hope