Aurat March breaking barriers against patriarchy in Pakistan

More than 7000 women gathered in Karachi, Pakistan for Aurat March on March 8, 2019. Image via Aurat March Facebook Page. Used with permission.

On March 8, 2019, the Hum Aurtein (Us Women) movement organized an Aurat March (Women’s March) in Pakistan in all four provinces to celebrate International Women’s Day.

From metropolitan cities to far-flung areas of Pakistan, women came out to march for economic, environmental and social justice; accountability and justice for violence; reproductive rights; justice against police brutality; inclusion of transgender individuals and women with disabilities; the rights of women from minority groups; access to public spaces and push for peace and against war; against militarization in daily life and the rhetoric of jingoism. While a large number of women participated in the event a number of like-minded men also joined the march to show their support for the cause.

A Woman showing a placard which reads:”Demanding dowry shows lack of self respect” at Aurat March on March 8, 2019. Image via Aurat March. Used with permission

The Hum Aurtein movement is a joint effort of feminist women, transgender individuals, non-binary persons and sexual minorities of all classes and religious persuasions who see patriarchal structures as responsible for the sexual, economic and structural exploitation of women. They are an apolitical entity and do not take funds from NGO’s or the corporate sector. The collective organized the 2018 Aurat March; however, this year's march grew both in the number of participants and the women who helped organize it.

Social media played a large role in building momentum behind this movement. The Aurat March Lahore chapter uploaded their manifesto giving details of the importance of the Aurat March. It claims to be a movement towards collective action and consciousness building to stand against patriarchal structures in Pakistan which results in sexual, economic and structural exploitation of women. Here is an example:

a. We demand that the right to autonomy and decision-making over our bodies;
c. We agitate for equal access to quality reproductive and sexual health services for women, all genders and sexual minorities.

During the march, participants carried placards with messages about the challenges that women face in their daily lives. Some of the placards were against patriarchy, while others highlighted social issues and demanded more rights.


Women March in Lahore. Image by Shaheena Kausar via Aurat March Lahore. Used with permission.


Women marching in Peshawar. Image by Syed Talib Abbas Raza via Aurat March. Used with permission.

Gilgit Baltistan:

Aurat Azadi March on #InternationalWomensDay in Hunza District of Gilgit-Baltistan. Via Hunza 24/7 / Humans of Hunza and Aurat March. Used with permission.


Aurat March in Quetta. The placard in red banner reads: “Socialist movement is our way.”Image by Jalila Haider via Aurat March. Used with permission.

Here is a video uploaded to Youtube by Abdul Rahman:

Although the march received support from all over the country, as participants and organizers began broadcasting live videos of the event, people took to social media to speak out against some of the poster's slogans.

One placard said, ‘Keep your dick to yourself’, another said ‘We are not punching bags’, while another said ‘We need rights, not marriage proposals’ these and others created a backlash from some Pakistani social media users.

Some actors from Pakistan film industry came out with their condemnation of the march too. A number of people posted repulsive comments openly threatening women and even Photoshopped some pictures to malign the basic concept of the Aurat March.

Shaan Shahid a popular film actor tweeted:

Veena Malik, a TV actress who some time back was under pressure for her work tweeted:

Some anchors on TV also added their voice against the march and asked the Government to take action against the organizers. A Parliamentarian of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) Abdul Rasheed from Sindh threatened to file a police complaint against the Aurat March.

The Aurat March organisers are planning to file a complaint with the Federal Investigation Authority after they received death and rape threats online.

Nida Kirmani, a journalist pointed out a doctored photo in her tweet to tell people how the doctoring had taken place:

The original poster on the right says: “have you learnt how to warm food”? The doctored image on the left says, “insert with love” – and there is a picture of a penis on it too.

Despite the severe backlash, many people appreciated the Aurat March and tweeted in its favor:

Translation: Today mothers and sisters are uniting in real sense.

A day after the Aurat March, a group of men retaliated by announcing a Mard March (Men March) in Karachi planned for the 23rd March. A number of men wrote and put up placards on social media posters as a rebuttal to Aurat March; however, it did not get a positive response:

Aurat March was a display of power and unity by women who are not seen in public spaces freely and their opinions and demands are almost never heard. The march was successful in raising awareness about the issues and augers well for the organizers who feel that it is merely the first step on the path towards making women's voices heard.

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