Women protested on International Women’s Day in Pakistan to reclaim their space in society, speak up for their rights, and demand justice from the system that has failed them because of patriarchal structures. This year, the Aurat March (Women’s March) protests also focused on the damage caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in Pakistan. Calling it a “Pandemic of Patriarchy,” the protesters demanded the government increase the health budget to 5 per cent of GDP so that women may get better healthcare.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Hum Aurtein feminist collective organised the protests across Pakistan, which took the form of marches, public art displays and performances highlighting challenges faced by women.
Among the issues the protests drew attention to was the significant increase in domestic violence and child abuse worldwide as families are families confined to their homes during the pandemic, with women deprived of proper healthcare or help—and that Pakistan was no different.
Each city chapter of the Aurat March (Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Multan, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad) wrote separate manifestos.
Lahore's manifesto concentrated on women's healthcare.
Aurat March Lahore is incredibly proud to share its #AuratMarch2021 manifesto, a “Feminist Manifesto on Healthcare”.
Access here: https://t.co/iLsYn1u9Vo
This document is a collective effort, put together after months of research & LISTENING. 1/5#PatriarchykaPandemic
— عورت مارچ لاہور – Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) February 23, 2021
Karachi's manifesto centered on gender-based violence inflicted upon women, transgender and non-binary people.
Here is our 15 point agenda for this year! It is a condensed version of our complete charter of demands & focuses broadly on the theme of gender-based violence inflicted upon women, transgender & non-binary persons.#AuratMarch2021#PatriarchyKaPandemic pic.twitter.com/TApDaKfmz5
— Aurat March – عورت مارچ (@AuratMarchKHI) March 7, 2021
(Sada haq, Aithay rakh – Put our Right Here. Aurat Dharna – Women sit-in.)
Islamabad focused on issues ranging from healthcare, economic justice and patriarchal violence to disability justice and the climate change crisis.
AURAT AZADI MARCH 2021 CHARTER OF DEMANDS
Our demands are linked to this year's theme of the crisis of care in the coronavirus pandemic. The issues we have highlighted range from healthcare, economic justice & patriarchal violence to disability justice & climate change crisis. pic.twitter.com/AeD9V9XJ2b
— Aurat Azadi March Islamabad (@AuratAzadiMarch) March 7, 2021
The Aurat March always touches upon pressing issues in Pakistan. Every year people come forward with personal accounts of friends and family who have been the objects of the male-dominated society.
It is easier to sit in cozy drawing rooms and nitpick on the social causes, in reality you can't even imagine stepping into the shoes of the victims rallying for justice!
— Sukhdev (@SukhdevHemnani_) March 8, 2021
This young man is from Chitral. He says Kalasha women are forcibly converted and married off. This is why he marches today. #AuratMarch #Karachi pic.twitter.com/uokFxGKADQ— Samaa Life&Style (@LifestyleSamaa) March 8, 2021
Art and protest in Lahore
The Aurat March Lahore set up an art installation depicting the “patriarchal stains” on women's clothes, calling it “dirty laundry.” Messages from women and girls, mentioning the age at which they first encountered violence, harassment, emotional abuse or denial of freedoms, were displayed.
Every year #auratmarch comes forward with great ideas to highlight women issues, pains, blood and loss… this display speaks of all that babies, girls women have gone through…. #WhyIMarch #WomensDay @AuratMarch #Lahore pic.twitter.com/2fFKwMIgDX
— Umaima Ahmed (@UmaimaBlogger) March 8, 2021
Artists and designers from across the country made feminist public art that told the stories of women, their ordeals, how they have suffered in society, highlighting the crux of the manifesto.
A #MeToo red cloth panel, with stories of abuse, harassment, violence, exposing the system that has failed them for ages, was also displayed.
TRIGGER WARNING// RAPE AND ASSAULT #AuratMarchLahore is unfolding its #metoo blanket. Women have shared their experiences of sexual violence and abuse. We're sharing small snippets from the blanket being carried by the marchers right now. (1)#PatriarchykaPandemic pic.twitter.com/cPZbhRJYyd
— عورت مارچ لاہور – Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) March 8, 2021
Slogans and reactions
Women, girls, transgender and non-binary people, and also men of all ages, attended the march in Lahore, carrying anti-patriarchy slogans on placards.
Literally the best day ever!! pic.twitter.com/heXj3tp72U
— idk i suck ( ꈍᴗꈍ) (@yaarlybawhy) March 8, 2021
— Ailia Zehra (@AiliaZehra) March 8, 2021
Just days before the Aurat March was to be held, social media trends opposing it began going viral. One hashtag claimed that the Aurat March was foreign-funded and promoting Western agendas. People also said that the march was contrary to religious beliefs and that women already had rights in Islam.
Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar, a drama writer and director tweeted (the tweet was later deleted):
Aurat March is name of shamefulness. It is run by Western NGOs who are working against Islam. Agenda of feminists are to manipulate thought of Muslims women in the name of freedom, but we should need to reveal their real faces and people who are behind it #ForeignFundedAuratMarch
— Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar (@KRQ_Official) March 7, 2021
Conservative and right-wing organizations are aggressive opponents of the Aurat March feminist collective. Last year's Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad, was disrupted when participants were pelted by bricks and stones by people at a counter-protest, the “Haya March.” This year, the women's wing of the Jamaat e Islami, a religious political party, organized a march in various cities across Pakistan. Their slogan was Familialism, not Feminism.
Jamaat e Islami Women Wing holds a rally at Press Club Karachi with a slogan of Strong Women Strong Family & Strong Families make Strong Nation. JI women wing firmly believes that #OurStrenghtIsOurFamily & #Familism than #Feminism pic.twitter.com/nFwyd1Hwvl
— Jamaat Islami Karachi East (@JIKarachiEast) March 8, 2021
Media coverage of the Aurat March is usually limited to showing selective slogans and placards aimed at disparaging the movement. This year the organizers asked the media to register the names of reporters, preferably female, to cover the march. But this did not go well and YouTubers who wanted to cover the event called it as being “against freedom of the press.”
Being a woman & a journo, I disagree with this bar. Movements must let their natural course flow which also includes -ve propaganda against them. Never in history successful movements have put barriers. OTOH, journalists must exercise objectivity not sensationalism to cover #AuratMarch https://t.co/kO7oqKal3B
— Gharidah Farooqi (@GFarooqi) March 8, 2021
Since the march, several social media posts have called out citizen journalists (self-proclaimed journalists, YouTubers, local content creators, etc.,) for how they treated protesters, asking insensitive questions to make them uncomfortable.
This (hyper) journalist with Daily Pakistan is threatening a volunteer of Aurat March Karachi. After he was seen asking insulting, controversial questions to the participants, he was politely asked to leave.
His name is Osama and has worked with various media outlets. pic.twitter.com/f8DcsGPkCv
— Fawad फ़वाद 🇵🇸 (@FawadHazan) March 9, 2021