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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Explainer: What does Mera Jism Meri Marzi mean?

Like other concepts, the Pakistani community failed to understand the meaning and context of Mera Jism Meri Marzi. GVS presents the opinions of experts to explain the slogan for its readers.

In Pakistan, there is a debate with regard to feminism and its objectives. Some critics have challenged the entire idea of women empowerment and blamed Pakistani feminists for the current social disorganization and cultural chaos. However, experts and academics opine that the idea of feminism is largely misunderstood in male dominated Pakistani society.

Every proponent of women empowerment is reminded of the fact that “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” is at the heart of the movement which is negation of ‘our culture’. However, the very slogan is not only misunderstood but also largely taken out of the context.

Bina Shah, prominent columnist, explains that “this slogan was first used in its original English by women who advocate for reproductive rights and autonomy over their bodies. That is, the right to decide whether or not they will carry a pregnancy, not leaving this decision to others — individual men or the state”.

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She further elaborates that “the organizers of the Aurat March in Pakistan translated this slogan into Urdu and it became Mera Jism Meri Marzi. Immediately, men, mullahs, misogynists seized the slogan and twisted it beyond any logic. Pontificating on what Mera Jism Meri Marzi means, I have heard these responses to the slogan coming from men and boys:

  • You want to have sex with your father
  • You want to walk naked down the street
  • You want to be a prostitute
  • You want to have sex with anyone you want

Ms. Shah laments that “what a low opinion Pakistani men must have of Pakistani women if this is what’s going through their minds! No wonder they feel they must control every action, police every movement, otherwise Pakistani women would break free and run around uncontrollably, destroying what’s left of society”.

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She maintained that “the real meaning of Mera Jism Meri Marzi boils down to a single word: consent. Giving permission for something to happen. The women who talk about this slogan are referring to women having control over their own bodies. Not being pushed or forced into:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Rape
  • Forced marriage
  • Sexual trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Pregnancy
  • Abortion

Another analyst said, “there are so many emotionally charged ethnocentric culturists who firmly believe that women in Pakistan are neither voiceless nor are they powerless. The widely held popular belief is that women are respected, heard, and decently treated. This is what men believe, but not practice. Merely believing in some positive things is as useless as practicing a bad thing. A good idea, philosophy or view deserves to be shared, practiced and advocated”.

Moreover, “when talking about respect and dignity misogynists excessively talk about the status of an old mother, a submissive wife, an obedient sister and women covered in a veil. Ironically, submissiveness is what defines a woman with a good character for them. Those who question or argue are liable to be disrespected and silenced”.

He added that “women in Pakistan, at a large scale are voiceless, powerless and considered men’s possession. This is what most of the research categorically suggests. Cases of honor killing, forced marriages, domestic violence on media further confirm this scientific research. Empirical studies conducted by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other Non-Governmental Organizations working on women rights expose the indecent truth of our society.

Mostly women are not allowed to take decisions even in their most personal matters—the right to choose a better-half— and apart from a few exceptions no woman is allowed to decide her role in public sphere; her job and interaction with her colleagues. Women’s role in public sphere, if any, is strictly defined, scoped, and drawn by men of her family. There can be two reasons behind this strictness. One is that perhaps women are thought to be lacking in reason, therefore men should decide things for her. Two, a woman is a man’s possession, hence her role would be defined and determined by her ‘master’”.

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It is also important to note, “the more disturbing thing is that the idea of women empowerment is often refuted under the pretext of cultural invasion by the imperialist West. Even many educated women argue against being empowered at the cost of social chaos. Mostly, any effort to empower women is seen with suspicion, as if it would disturb our ideal family system. This is not what people, and particularly women, think of empowerment; rather this is how the idea of empowerment has been framed in our society”.

“Unfortunately, women both educated and uneducated, in urban and rural communities, to a great extent, view the idea of women empowerment inherently negatively. Women empowerment is, as many women in Pakistan view it, a radical disruptive social revolution which aims at destroying our family system and marriage institution to create a western individualistic materialistic social order. Therefore, we, the eastern obedient daughters and faithful wives, don’t need any empowerment. Women empowerment is only a myth to topple our social system. This is simply untrue. Straightforwardly speaking, this is not what women empowerment means,” it is added.


To conclude, “the main reason behind anti-feminist waves among Pakistani women is due to male-dominated cultural discourse in our society. Historically speaking, whenever any marginalized group gets some recognition and successfully attains some legal protection, the privileged group feels threatened and shows remarkable resistance. Oftentimes the argument to oppose any attempt to uplift the weaker segment of the society is based upon sociological reasons – the cultural norms and macro-level social patterns do not allow any such radical change. In case of Pakistan, almost every law which is made to protect women is sheepishly opposed by the lovers of patriarchy on the same lines as if it would disrupt our sociology”.