Women marched in Pakistan despite resistance from authorities and religious groups

Aurat March in Lahore, Pakistan. Match 8, 2023. Image by the author.

Aurat March in Lahore, Pakistan. Match 8, 2023. Image by the author.

The organizers of Aurat March (Women's march) in Lahore, Karachi, and Multan, faced opposition from the district administration shortly before the planned International Women's Day rallies across Pakistan this week. Despite encountering some obstacles, they were ultimately able to come out in large numbers on March 8, albeit with certain restrictions attached to their congregation.

Journalist Veengas tweeted:

Feminist activist Nishat Anjum tweeted that people from all genders joined the March in Islamabad:

Feminist activist, actress and writer Shama Junejo tweeted:

The Aurat March is an annual event organized by a feminist group called Hum Aurtein feminist collective to raise awareness against the patriarchy and advocate for the rights of women and marginalized communities in Pakistan. The first marches occurred on Women's Day in 2018 in three major cities, where women from all walks of life took to the streets. Since then, the movement has expanded to include numerous other cities in Pakistan. Each chapter has its own unique themes, digital art, banners, slogans, and street performances to highlight their demands.

The Aurat March has encountered opposition from the administration and religious groups in previous years. This year was no exception.

Aurat March in Lahore

In Lahore, for example, the rally organizers were denied a No Objection Certificate (NOC), which authorizes groups to hold rallies and large public events. The district administration cited concerns of potential clashes between the Haya march (a modesty march organized by religious groups) and the Aurat March. Despite being reminded that the court had granted the organizers the right to protest in 2020, they were still denied the NOC this year.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Amnesty International South Asia have criticized the resistance shown by the administration. In response to public backlash, Mohsin Naqvi, the Interim Chief Minister of Punjab, had given assurances that the administration will not prevent the protesters from holding their march in the province.

The Lahore High Court instructed both parties to resolve the issue as soon as possible. The marchers agreed to change the venue, but the court also instructed the organizers not to invite guests from a specific sect and to refrain from uploading controversial statements on social media. Meanwhile, the political party Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, will also hold an election rally in Lahore on the same date, but no concerns have been raised against them by the authorities.

On the eve of the planned rally on March 8, the organizers of Aurat March Lahore publicly announced a list of 60 demands, which included an end to patriarchal violence and increased representation of women in policymaking roles. Despite the challenges they have faced, they reiterated their commitment to holding the March as planned.

Aurat March in Multan:

The organizers of the Multan chapter of the Aurat March encountered similar challenges and did not receive a NOC from their District Administration either.

But after many deliberations, they were eventually granted permission to hold the March — albeit with some restrictions.

Aurat march in Karachi:

Image from Facebook Page of Aurat March Karachi chapter. Used with permission.

A petition was submitted to the Sindh High Court seeking to ban the March in Karachi, citing slogans raised by participants that were deemed to be “against the values of Pakistani society”. However, the court rejected the petition and observed that the slogans were not objectionable and that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of movement to all citizens. The court also imposed a fine of Pakistani Rupees (PKR) 25,000 (USD 90) on the petitioner and ordered that their national identity card (NIC) be blocked by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) if the fine is not paid. The court further deemed the petition a publicity stunt. Meanwhile, the Karachi chapter of the Aurat March will hold its protest on March 12 to accommodate working-class women, as March 8 falls on a weekday.

Aurat march in Islamabad:

The police in Pakistan's capital Islamabad baton-charged peaceful protesters at the “Aurat March” on March 8, 2023. Earlier in the day, the Islamabad High Court rejected a petition filed by a politician challenging the permission to hold the Aurat March rally in the city.

Politician Khushal Khan tweeted:

Climate activist Hania mentioned:

Filmmaker and writer Javaria Waseem protested:

In an opinion piece for The Dawn, former journalist and academic Maria Amir emphasized that the organically expanded Aurat March will ultimately prevail. Pakistani women, who have long endured abuse and neglect from the patriarchal system, are channelling their anger and protests into art and standing up to men who try to intimidate them.

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