Pakistan’s Women’s March: Shaking patriarchy ‘to its core’

Thousands of women have marched across Pakistan’s main urban centres to mark International Women’s Day.

It is the third successive year that the Aurat March, women’s march, has been held in the country.

The theme for this year’s march was “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” (My body, my choice), which according to the organisers’ manifesto, is about demanding a society without exploitative patriarchal structures and control of economic resources, the right of women to make decisions about their own bodies, and ending harassment, forced religious conversions and the sexist portrayal of women in the media, among other things.

The marches were organised by a collective that includes Women’s Action Forum, a women’s rights organisation, Women’s Democratic Front, a socialist-feminist organisation, and Hum Aurtein, a feminist group.

“The women who are emerging are shattering all those [patriarchal] ideas. They are just not going to take it any more. This is very unsettling for a lot of people,” explained Ammar Rashid, president of the Punjab chapter of Awami Workers’ Party, a left-wing political party that supported the marches.

“The thought of a women’s march advocating women’s rights shakes patriarchy to the very core.”

Fatima Hassan is a student activist who attended the march in Karachi. “I’m a young woman [and] I’m here today because I don’t feel comfortable walking alone at night,” she explained. “And I’m here for all those women who couldn’t be here today.”

In recent months, Pakistan has seen a wave of protests – by women demanding equality, students demanding the reinstatement of student unions and ethnic groups demanding their rights.

Tooba Syed is the political representative of the Women’s Democratic Front and one of the organisers of the Islamabad march. She feels that all of the recent protest movements have one thing in common: they are being led by the country’s progressive youth.

And among the youth, women are becoming particularly vocal, she says.

“The space for women is growing. I see many more women engaging today than I did perhaps five years ago. I remember being the only woman at some protests and sometimes I would be joined by maybe two or three more women but today that has changed.”

The backlash
But if more women are feeling empowered to come out and march, it has not come without a backlash.

Some of the signs carried at last year’s marches attracted a lot of animosity. Among them were posters addressing unwanted sexual advances, explicit photos women receive from men online and even the “correct way” for a woman to sit.

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