Marches across several cities in Pakistan, commonly referred to as Aurat March, were carried out on Tuesday in connection with International Women’s Day, as women raised their voices to demanded equal rights and an end to systemic discrimination.
The first Aurat March in Pakistan was held on March 8, 2018, in Karachi. The next year, it was extended to more cities, including Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Larkana, and Hyderabad. This year’s event was the fifth march since its inception.
The march has three main chapters in the cities of Multan, Lahore and Karachi. The procession kicked off at 1pm from Multan’s Nawan Shehar Chowk, 2pm from Lahore Press Club and at 3pm from Karachi’s Jinnah Park along with demonstrations in other cities.
Each chapter of the Aurat March has its own manifesto with the Karachi chapter focusing on wages, security and peace; Lahore on reimagining justice; Multan on reimagining the education system and Islamabad on justice, security and freedom.
The Karachi chapter’s three main demands call for the provision of a living wage based on access to safe housing, quality education and affordable healthcare for workers and their families; the provision of social security and protection through monthly stipends for all women and the transgender community and prioritising child welfare by putting an end to child labour, trafficking for work, and bonded labour.
Meanwhile, the Lahore chapter came up with its manifesto after extensive research and meetings with relevant communities including families who have been affected by enforced disappearances, domestic workers, survivors of sexual violence and religious minorities.
It demands more holistic reforms which seek to transform society, provide psycho-social support to survivors of violence as well as rehabilitation for perpetrators. The Lahore chapter also advocates structural reforms that prevent patriarchal violence rather than short-term solutions such as capital punishment and chemical castration.
The leadup to this year’s Aurat March was fraught with controversy as Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri penned a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan last month saying that anti-Islamic slogans should not be raised on International Women’s Day.
He had also suggested celebrating International Hijab Day instead of Aurat March on March 8, in an effort to express solidarity with Muslim women across the globe. The letter drew the ire of various quarters on social media, including politicians, which led the minister to later issue a statement clarifying his intentions.
Other religious parties later joined in their opposition to this year’s Aurat March such as Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s Islamabad chapter and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan.
‘SOCIETY HAS TO IMPLEMENT WOMEN’S RIGHTS’
Meanwhile, addressing a ceremony in Rawalpindi’s Fatima Jinnah University to celebrate International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the government has made laws that protect women’s rights but it is the society that has to implement them.
The premier said that most Pakistani women don’t get their rights and that is because the country has adopted traditions from India, where women were considered men’s property.
“Indian women used to be burned alive (Satti) with the body of her husband if he died,” he said.
Whereas Pakistan was created in the name of Islam which gives many rights to women, he added.
PM Imran said that as the laws have been created, the administration, women and everyone else has a role to play in raising awareness on women’s rights and their protection.
Shedding light on the increasing trend of second marriages, the PM said that a collective struggle is needed to stop men from abandoning their wives after they marry another woman.
“Women have separate rights in case of divorce,” PM Imran said while pledging to enforce relevant laws in the future.
Moreover, the premier said that women’s education is another matter that requires emphasis. “Education is also important along with the protection of their rights.”
NATIONAL GENDER POLICY LAUNCHED
Separately, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar announced the launch of the National Gender Policy framework by his ministry on International Women’s Day.
Taking to Twitter, the minister said that the new policy “provides a structured framework with clear-cut objectives and responsibilities assigned for improving the lives of the women of Pakistan.”
Speaking at an event in Islamabad, the minister underlined the achievements of women noting that the gender is “vital for the development of any society”.
Talking about challenges encountered by women in the country, he stated they cannot be compared to that of men as women suffer more problems than male members of the society, hence it is unreasonable to equalise the problems of both genders.
He stated that women’s education is still a huge concern in a country which previous governments have not been able to overcome.
Umar noted that there is still a large gender disparity.
“There is still very low enrollement of girls in schools compared to boys,” said Umar. This gap expands when children are promoted from primary to secondary grades as the dropout rate increases due to various issues, he said.
The minister added that PTI will include this particular problem in the education policy as well.
Meanwhile, Christian NGOs held protest camps on March 8 against forced conversions and marriages of minority underage girls.
Social activist Lala Robin Daniel of Faisalabad demanded implementation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, that mandates that girls cannot marry before the age of 16 and boys must be 18. However, in Sindh province, the local government raised the age to 18 for both sexes in 2014, with child marriage made a punishable offense.
Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance) held a similar sit-in in front of the Lahore press clubs.