Aiming at initiating a collective effort to eliminate violence against all the underprivileged groups and marginalised communities, women from all walks of life gathered on Friday for the second Aurat March at the lawns of Frere Hall to mark International Women’s Day.
Hundreds of women, men and transgender people gathered to mark the global day with the slogan “Aao haq ki baat karein phir say [Let’s talk about rights again]”, under the banner of Hum Aurtein (We the women). The participants were from various religious and social backgrounds who demanded that discrimination and acts of violence be ended against women and other gender minorities in the country.
Among the participants, the presence of Empress Markets’ women dry fruit vendors, women from Christian, Hindu and Bohri communities, transgender rights members and activists campaigning for their ‘missing’ relatives was particularly marked. Also, a significant number of school and varsity students were also there.
Participants also brought posters with interesting slogans that favoured women empowerment, criticised patriarchy and taboos, and poked fun at gender issues for being social constructs. Some wore masks of Qandeel Baloch. They danced, sang and chanted slogans against violence against women.
They also carried a box with a figure wrapped in a white sheet inside as a symbolic coffin of patriarchy. Women activists in their speeches spoke about gender pay gap, harassment, economic justice, violence, political participation and reproductive justice. They also highlighted different issues faced by women at home and at work. They demanded implementation of the relevant laws and an end to the subjugation of women by men.
The activists stressed uniting women and non-binary and transgender persons for the cause of gender justice to collectively bring about a social change on the basis of inclusion, dignity, freedom and equality.
“The main purpose of Aurat March is to organise a diverse and inclusive gathering of activists, where women from all walks of life join forces to demand more rights, an end to violence and support for equality,” said Sheema Kermani, a known activist and dancer, who is one of the gathering’s organisers. “We expressed solidarity for the connected nature of our struggles and work together to dismantle the system of oppression and exploitation.”
Qurrat Mirza, another activist and organiser, said Aurat March was a collective effort of all women, not led by a single group or organisation but planned by Hum Aurtein that represents all women of various religions, ethnicities, classes and sections of society.
Speaking on the plight of minorities, Christian leader Pastor Ghazala Shafique said when women were already marginalised in the country, it was easy to imagine how worse life would be for a non-Muslim girl. “Measures were needed in place to stop the forced conversions of young non-Muslim women on the pretext of marriage because later these women are mistreated by those who had forcibly converted them,” she said.
To mark International Women’s Day, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) organised a ceremony near its Bahadurabad office where leaders of the party unanimously resolved that all discriminatory and unjust laws against women should be scrapped immediately.
Former senator and MQM-P deputy convener Nasreen Jalil, MNA Kishwer Zehra, former MNA Khusbakht Shujaat, party leaders Faisal Subzwari and Abdul Waseem, athlete Naseem Hameed and mother of martyred pilot Mariam Mukhtar were key speakers at the event.
Deploring discriminatory laws and customs, the speakers demanded that women be provided with equal opportunities in employment, business, governance, education, health and other sectors so that they could play their due role in the national development.
The role of educated women is vital for the development of the country. Children who are brought up by educated women play a very integral part in the country’s growth. This is a very good sign that nowadays women besides their routine household responsibilities are progressing well in different sectors and it is happening as women are now taking more interest in getting an education.
These views were expressed by Vice Chancellor University of Karachi Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan. He inaugurated a ceremony organised by the Centre of Excellence for Women Studies, KU, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. He said manpower was one of the significant tools of success and growth for any country, and Pakistan’s majority was based on women. He added that in this era, men and women had to get an education so that they could serve the country better.