Everything you should know about Pakistan’s annual women’s rights protest, Aurat March
Reflections through the eyes of a 21-year-old Gen z feminist female living in Karachi, Pakistan.
“Aurat March”, translates from Urdu to “Women’s March”, meaning that this protest is held solely in the honor of women in Pakistan; to fight for our rights as a collective supportive sisterhood.
Every year since 2018, the socio-political movement, organized by multiple Women socialist groups such as “Hum Auratein” (We the Women) and Women Democratic Front has held protests in Karachi and slowly expanded the annual protests in other cities such as Islamabad and Lahore. Of course, back then as a young girl of sixteen, I wasn’t allowed to attend an extremely controversial and negatively viewed event with my friends or anyone at all for that matter.
In Pakistan, women’s rights and feminism is vastly controversial, since being a Muslim-majority country, religious extremists have taken over the narrative completely, altering the real meaning and need that the protest was birthed. So why do we march every year no matter what anyone says? Here’s the actual truth. According to statistics, women take up 48.54% of Pakistan’s population, and while it may seem like since half of the majority of a whole country is female, we must have equal control over politics, wages, and being respected as humans at the bare minimum, be able to roam the markets without being raped, harassed or have laws on not being murdered for not wanting to consent to forceful marriages (most often underage).
You get the gist, right? But the answer is no. These privileges only exist for men here, under laws and opinions formed by men. Aurat March is a cry for help from women in Pakistan, to be able to be free in a “free country”, that is the real truth behind the protest.
Read: Feminism and the Advocacy of Women’s Rights: Why Are these Relevant Today?
Mixed feelings; negative connotations against the protest and how the sisterhood perseveres
Seeing as how most rudimentary rights, such as being able to take a walk in the park without being sexually harassed, having the liberty of marrying someone out of love, or even being able to believe in a religion that’s known as a minority in an otherwise mass Muslim country, are not available to females in Pakistan, it would make sense that most women, no matter the age are on the same page in terms of fighting for what they deserve, but sadly it is not so.
I have often found in my personal experience that since new-found Islamist leaders’ preachings are vastly male-centered, and most surrounding hell and the ‘consequences of sin’, women that grow up under these teachings are quite anti-feminist. They are unaware of their own basic rights like being able to study and being able to say no to things that their heart doesn’t approve of. These ideas and biases are formed due to the negative connotations that branch from male-centric ideologies about feminism, in my country.
Read: Primary Causes and Impact of Child Marriage
An example of this is that women often are deemed ‘submissive’ under the pretext of religion, whereas Islam as a religion holds women very dear, and allows them every liberty. Our religion is about peace and respect, but since men profit off of bent narratives that leave women inferior, these teachings become the norm in extremist households. From a psychological perspective, this gives into years worth of trauma. Despite this generational trauma and brainwashing, a section of women stood up for the safety of all women in Pakistan, to not be killed for ‘honor’, or to not be forced to convert to another religion, etc.
One of my personal reflections regarding this scenario is that men play a huge part in changing the narratives of the protest solely because they benefit from the system that they have created. An anecdote supporting this idea is as follows:
In 2018, the first Aurat March took place based upon the numerous rapes that had been taking place back to back without any legal justice. The collective of Aurat March, came up with a very powerful slogan, to send out a clear message to men, “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi”, translated from Urdu, which quite literally means “My body, My rules”. The absolute uproar this one sentence caused in Pakistan is still unforgettable. The men were enraged, anti-feminists on social media regardless of gender were bashing the Aurat march community, saying that feminists had lost their minds and wanted to ‘roam the streets naked’ and were ‘asking to be abused’. While the actual meaning behind the slogan was to normalize consent/sexual consent. Children had been raped, and women were and are still the victims of genital mutilation and underage childbirth. In Pakistan, women can not solely sign for abortions, it requires their husbands to consent. The clear point of Aurat March was simply to tell men that we are human, not objects, and we deserve bodily autonomy. We deserve a say in what happens with our bodies.
Read: The Outlaw Of The Virginity Test In Pakistan: A (Partial) Victory
Against all of these odds, the community stayed together and year after year we come together to fight for our rights and even those of our sisters that are blinded by false narratives. Asking for bodily autonomy and sheer respect as humans is not a sin.
The protests now, and the on-site backlash it faces:
Like every year since 2018, The Aurat march collective creates a list of demands for the government of Pakistan and concerned departments. This year’s pleas included (but are not limited to):
- All workers should get living wages, based on access to safe housing, schooling, and affordable healthcare. (About inflation)
- Establishment of safe houses/shelters and funds for the transgender community in Pakistan. (Trans rights)
- An end to forced conversions and child marriages in Pakistan.
Along with demands, a slogan is released concerning the greatest issue in society at the time, this year it was the abuse of women, children, and trans people, “tumhara zulm yaad rakha jayega” meaning, “your abuse will be remembered”.
While some of these things may be normalized in rather juxtaposing ‘liberal’ countries and societies, it is a daily struggle of women and trans people in Pakistan, of all ages. Also, like every other year, anti-feminist reporters exploit the access Aurat march gives to the press to cover the event across different media platforms. My sister was a volunteer photographer this time, she was asked to capture the rage, joy, togetherness, and everything in between; the unfiltered emotion of sisterhood. Whereas the male reporters for local news channels and random micro anti-feminist frustrated male YouTubers that run channels on mobile phones tried to catch every ‘slip’ from every mouth, to try and make a fool of women that are desperate for equality.
I had the honor of having access to places only volunteers could go to, because I was counted as my sister’s assistant, ( I carried her things around and gave her water throughout the event), I got to witness teamwork, effort, and what goes on in the hours before the crowd arrives and the speeches start. I saw the little girls that were the victims of forced conversions up close, the passion and anger in their eyes as they practiced their commentating performances was moving.
That is the true essence of the Aurat march, women being there for women. I saw fathers march for their daughters, sisters, and wives. Young trans people even after being treated like something unholy, stood their ground and showed others that they were not alone, through witty plays, songs, and humor.
It was truly breathtaking, as it is every year, to feel an undeniable safety, the safety of women.
Aurat March is anything but the demonized picture of shamelessness that extremist society portrays it as. It is a celebration of being yourself, unapologetically female or transgender, it is a day of music, femininity, community, and realization for the women of our country. To tell women of every age; you have a voice, and that it is not a sin to ask for respect in your own homes.
(Picture credits: @noorahsun on instagram)