Pakistani culture vs Women empowerment: Should Aurat March be held?

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2018” the gender equality situation in Pakistan is worst. The country has been placed at 148 out of 149. In Punjab alone, one in three women face domestic violence. Should women be allowed to hold Aurat March?

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Should women in Pakistan be allowed to hold a march? The question has divided Pakistani society at large. Some proponents of women rights believe that women like any other citizen of Pakistan have all rights to celebrate a days as Aurat March. However, religiously conservative segment of society has not only opposed the march but also threatened to forcibly stop it.

In a latest development, Six women ‘activists’ approached the Lahore High Court on Monday with a request to ‘regulate’ forthcoming Aurat March to ensure implementation of Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.

“If the previous Aurat March is taken into account, it can clearly be observed that the so-called march is nothing but an anti-state activity aimed at tarnishing dignity of women and tarnishing the image of Islam,” said the women in a civil miscellaneous application they filed through Advocate Siddique to become party in the pending main petition.

Applicants Ayesha Mubashir, Asia Yousaf, Seema Quratulain, Farah Naz, Amina Ameer and Ume Kalsoom claimed that they have been striving for the betterment of women and enforcement of their rights. They submitted that the concept being spread through the Aurat March was fully opposite to teachings of Islam and culture of the country. They said main motive of the march was to create lawlessness and vulgarity in the society.

Read more: President Alvi: Economic independence important for women empowerment

The activists pleaded that they wanted the Aurat March to be reformed into an event that would provide basic knowledge to women of their rights and spread awareness regarding enforcement of their rights through seminars, workshops and positive slogans.

Stop the march from happening, Maualna Fazlur Rehman

Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islami chief Maualna Fazlur Rehman told his followers to stop the Aurat March from taking place. In a video uploaded on Fazl’s Twitter account, he can be heard telling his supporters that when they see “these types of elements” they should alert security forces. He continued that if the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are the ones providing security to the women rallying, then his supporters should take it upon themselves to stop those rallying by force.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on Monday condemned political leaders urging a forceful stop of the Aurat March scheduled to take place on March 8 across the country.

Read more: Murder of PPP MPA Shahnaz Ansari reflects ‘frail women’ in Sindh

In a strongly-worded tweet, Mazari said: “women like other segments of society have a right to peacefully protest [and] [to] demand their rights already enshrined in our Constitution”.

Why you should be part of Aurat March?

It is important to note here that according to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2018” the gender equality situation in Pakistan is worst. The country has been placed at 148 out of 149. Pakistan is one number ahead of Yemen, a Muslim majority state where women have to face oppression and exclusion from public spheres.

An analyst told GVS that “Aurat March [held in 2019] was an attempt to express anger and claim freedom by women who have been subject to violence and harassment since long. It’s understandable. Some women used culturally inappropriate placards to express their anger against the patriarchal social structure. It does not mean that those women are vulgar or want a society without basic moral values rather some culturally disturbing words used in Aurat March were a bitter response to ages-long harassment and exploitation”.

Moreover, 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”.

Read more: Legal Reforms are not enough to Protect Women

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”.

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”.

Read more: One in every three women in Punjab suffered violence: UNFPA

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”.

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