“Vulgar”, “Obscene”, “Foreign agenda” and “Unreligious” are some of the slurs we hear all around us in recent times when the day of 8th March comes and we observe Aurat March every year. On that day a sense of panic and outrage ascends in our conservative social circles as if this day will snatch away their moral values, sovereignty and faith. As if they are opposing an astute enemy who is not only knocking on their doors but forcing itself inside to destroy all the vulnerable cultural values which are considered holy enough to be touched let aside changed.
On the other hand, there are these fearless marchers are seen with burning eyes and scorching words, open chested, challenging the taboos while tolerating all the wrath of the society which may include their families, co-workers, and piers. They face the mocking words of by-passers, violent threats, harsh tips of media probes and no idea how many other layers of these hurdles on God knows how many levels. Despite all this, they are still undeterred, more audible and growing in numbers. Now they are echoing in every corner of the country, raising many eyebrows but seeking far stretched support from other co-thinkers, like-minded people, international media and NGOs.
Why it has become such a subject which is widening an already created rift between progressive liberal minds and a conservative common man? To what extent the right-wing groups consider this upcoming threat as a destruction source for the morals of society? Are they justified in using piercing words in their unclothed placards?
The idea of Aurat March began when a few women decided to mobilize their networks and gather in a park in Karachi on International Women’s day to ask for an end to violence and harassment. Since then it has become a widespread movement that now includes the transgender community as well. The initial demand was better laws to protect women and enforcement of existing laws, as well as raising awareness and changing attitudes about women empowerment.
The small campaign of a few like-minded individuals has become a movement now and has started to expand to several other cities and forums now across Pakistan. It has become a prominent feat of International Women’s day in Pakistan.
As time progressed and their momentum grew, their words have become piercing and demands have become bolder. Now the terms are no longer about the improvement of laws but they also include freedom of will and liberty of one’s expression about the way of life including their marital/sexual preferences, and decisions of choosing life partner dragging to the apparent slogan “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi”, a slogan which has many meanings in many circles.
Pakistan has not been an ideal place for the safety of women. Every other day women face a hostile and derogatory surrounding which looks at them as a stranded figure from the comfort and safety of home as they step out. Their need for going out of home for earning and support their families is still considered a strict violation of “chadar and char diwari” for many. In public transport, workplaces, shopping centers and even in educational institutes they have always been taken for granted and face many disgraceful gestures and shameful glares daily.
On the contrary, it is also a fact that there is a vast majority of people who give women the due respect and independence they deserve. The trend of educating girls is gradually on the rise even in rural areas. As compared to 2015-2016 it has been increased from 58% to 60% in 2018-2019. Access to social media is enhancing and widespread mainstream media is playing its role to break the chains. Many social workers and NGOs are working to spread awareness. As a whole, society is inclined to accept women empowerment but still, we are miles behind from what should be the benchmark in this cause. We need to change mentalities and attitudes which have been frozen for centuries of disbelief and customs. We need to consider everyone equal in every sense and there should be no inferior gender in our society.
This whole debate has come down to these burning questions.
The demand for rights is a need of the hour for women but up to what extent? Are we ready to accept any extent at all? Should there be any social or religious boundaries or no norms that can come in the way of this cause? Are we borrowing the ideas of liberty from the west whose social framework does not work like ours? Are those marchers asking too much?