After 1909, the first ever Women’s Day was celebrated to support women’s suffrage. The day became a global event when the UN declared March 8th as International Women’s Day.

In many developed countries, the event has lost its significance perhaps because of the common assumption that equality exists for all.

Acknowledging The History

Even though, Auratmarch is not affiliated to any political party, corporation or NGO, it is the perpetuation of the legacy left behind by Women’s Action Forum. In 1983, WAF was subjected to Laathi Charge when they took to streets to protest the Hudood Ordinances and Zia’s oppressive laws. In 1987, WAF marched to protest the killing of two sisters in Karachi. After the police stopped them from marching ahead, they stopped and spontaneously decided to burn their chadors in public. It was back then when many prominent feminist poets; activists, lawyers and women of the civil society ignited the torch of women’s movement in Pakistan. A small recap of the F word: It is the feminist advocacy that has enabled women their basic human rights. This movement is the reason you and I can vote, own property, be our own person, have a job, not lose our job because of marriage or pregnancy, can keep the money we earn, and have many easily overlooked privileges. However, the original goal of achieving gender equality is still a long way off and that’s why this march had to be organized. In the words of one of the organizers, lawyer and activist Nighat Dad, “Auratmarch demanded economic justice, inclusion, diversity, implementation of laws, and equal labor policies. Auratmarch is about all the generic demands of the Awam.” If you didn’t go to the march, you can check Auratmarch’s Facebook for informative videos & posts about the authentic demands made. 

WAF’s Protests –Courtesy: The Nation

Connecting with the Context

The discourse of women’s rights in Pakistan has become baffling to the commoners as in a society plagued with patriarchy; the focus has been shifted from concerns of equal representation, freedom of choice, & legal rights, to the mere war of household chores. After last year’s Auratmarch, fragile masculinity was most offended by the popular slogan on most placards, “Apna Khana Khud Garam Karo.”  This year the backlash was over witty slogans like “Mujhe Kya Pata Tumhara Moza Kahan Hai?” and “Aao khana saath banaen.” This might seem trivial in the scheme of things but when people get their worth attached to it in the society, it becomes big. In this year’s march, with the crystal clear demands representing women and non-binary people from all backdrops, the demand was re-infused with its context. It highlights toxic gendered expectations. It only asks men to start bearing their share of the housework burden. Women wish they didn’t have to do so many chores alone; men don’t feel the need to do it. In our society women are not even acknowledged for the chores we do out of love for our family members. All these slogans intend to do is to remind how the burden is not the woman’s alone. Many women have to tolerate this alone while being working women, and many have even bear domestic violence over household chores. This entitlement comes to men from the gender roles placed upon women. Gender roles are not lethal just for women & gender minorities. This is a man’s fight too. When this very masculinity comes in the way of a man’s right to feel vulnerable, it is quite simple for them to understand the demand stated above. But unfortunately, men’s rights brigade only wakes when the conversation is about women’s rights.

Social media’s trolling culture started soon after the pictures were published. Most men & women started abusing & targeting the participants instead of trying to dig deeper into what those demands mean. After last year’s cyber-bullying cases, Auratmarch made sure to give a heads up and teach ways to cope with this behavior through pre-march workshops to the participants. So as women take care of themselves first and pick and choose what battles they want to fight, allies, especially males are required here. The support must not be limited to the event of the march. It must continue on every platform. This is how revolutions are stirred.

The Revolution Challenge

It’s been a long and tedious fight. Shouldn’t we be claiming wins from the history to move forward and face emerging issues? Instead we are spiraling into a hole where we have to fight all sorts of battles that we assumed we had won for gender equality. So every time we think we can take a step forward now, we have to take two steps back to be considered legitimate and make room for women, girls & gender minorities to be seen as equally deserving of even the basic rights. It’s 2019 and we still have to chant “Mubarak Ho! Beti Hui Hai!”– To demand end of female infanticide.

Few days before the March, the organizers started a viral hashtag #IMarchBecause for the participants to share their stories to make a greater audience aware of the challenges encountered by the people they know because of gender inequality to sensitize them. Some of the stories were really eye opening as they made you check your privilege even if you are a woman.

Auratmarch Lahore – Courtesy: Anum Naseer

Things are different from the past. Our access to information has become more accessible and inclusive; the knowledge of our rights on paper when marrying or dealing with property is within our reach, in most places it is not considered a taboo for schools to teach us about our reproductive rights anymore, but still we find ourselves in a continuous defense mode where we are put into a position of defending what our past generations have managed to achieve. Yes, this makes us angry. But we are not wasting our anger fighting wars. We are working to involve women and youth in the transitional justice process all over Pakistan. It is only after using this anger to empower us that we will able to transform our energy. When our basic demands are met, we will gain flexibility in mobilizing communities in peace building, conflict transformation, leadership, and other key areas. But right now, this challenge exists.

The only way to face this revolution challenge is by keep coming together to meditate on a positive vision of what gender equality really looks like and hope to see women, girls, & non-binary people realizing their strength so we don’t always have to find ourselves stuck revolving in this one defensive phase. We work & demand to be embraced as an equal part of the society. Women have been shown to be more compassionate and that is why our demands are interlinked to all genders.

Reaping fruits of Diversity & Inclusion

The biggest win of Auratmarch has to be amplifying the voice of all. It was all about inclusivity & diversity of women – LBT+ women; women from diverse social and economic backgrounds, religions and families; women with a range of physical abilities; native women and gender non-conforming people. We reaped a fruit of what we had been sowing all these years as Krishna Kumari Kohli, Pakistan’s first female senator from the Hindu Dalit community, chaired the session of the upper house of parliament on Women’s Day. When as a representative of the indigenous people, she was asked about her views on the Prime Minister’s distribution of health cards in Thar, she emphasized on how it was just one town of Talpur Chhachhro where it took place. She educated the journalist interviewing her on the demographics of Thar, reminding him of the desert’s vastness.

Another noteworthy action was: The announcement made by Sindh Inspector General Dr Syed Kaleem Imam soon after the march. “We have decided to assign major and principal roles to women officers so that they can work comfortably.” Said the IGP in Hyderabad Police Ground.

These are small wins but they must be acknowledged and celebrated in order to create bigger impacts. It is time that all of us open our mind & heart and extend our support in any way we can as one society. We can only progress collectively.

 

Auratmarch 2019 – Courtesy: Dawn Images

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