Religious affairs minister expresses reservations over Aurat March

    Federal Minister for Religious and Minority Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri has expressed his reservations over Aurat March (women’s solidarity march), scheduled to be held on March 8, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

    “The banners, placards, and slogans of the Aurat March challenge the Islamic social system. These marches make fun of Islamic principles, social values, modesty and chastity,” Qadri stated in his letter dated Feb 9.

    Qadri claimed that such rallies have become a major concern for “Muslims of Pakistan”. He proposed that Pakistani women should highlight the discrimination Muslim women face in India during the Women’s Day programmes.

    Saeeda Deip, who has been volunteering for the annual march since 2018, rejected the minister’s reservations.

    “It’s not our agenda to target any religion. We only wish to highlight our problems such as forced conversions of underage minority girls,” Deip, founder of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, said.

    “The Ministry of Religious Affairs has a trend of relating everything as a danger to Islam. It is hypocrisy to advocate the women’s rights of Muslims in a neighboring country and file court cases on women in Pakistan and persecute them.”

    Senator Sherry Rehman also questioned organising a Hijab Day instead of the Aurat March on Women’s Day.

    “How is the right to wear a hijab under threat in Pakistan? Quite the opposite. He can celebrate the hijab any day; one doesn’t exclude the other,” she said in a Feb 17 tweet.

    Shaheen Yousaf, the Catholic Women’s Organisation coordinator in Lahore Archdiocese, urged Aurat March organisers to avoid controversial slogans and placards.

    “We support movements for human rights and believe everyone should step out against violations. However, the organisers should respect cultural norms and avoid being too liberal or else our genuine demands will become a laughing stock. People are still very sensitive on women’s issues,” she said.

    In 2020, high courts in Islamabad and Lahore warned Aurat March organisers about using offensive slogans, especially “My body, my choice,” which sparked controversy and debate among social media users.

    In the federal capital of Islamabad, hardliners from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Sunni Ittihad and Jamia Hafsa attacked a march and injured several people.

    Last year several clerics filed blasphemy cases against women marchers objecting to anti-Islam chants and banners during rallies. However, there were no court proceedings. Aurat March organisers condemned the “falsely captioned videos and media”.

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