GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 853, 12 March 2024

The Aurat March returns. So do its detractors
Dhriti Mukherjee

On 11 March, the Sindh High Court (SHC) issued notices to the provincial government and relevant parties in response to a petition filed by a group of women lawyers against the Aurat March.  
In their petition, the lawyers argued that the march promoted movements that had negative implications on society and the Islamic Shariah, and alleged that “dance and nudity were being promoted in the name of women’s freedom, and organisations such as the Arts Council were allowing it to happen.” They further contended that cultural centres and parks were being used for the march, expressing hope that the movement be stopped.
A two-judge bench heard the case and held that while women had complete freedom as per Islamic law, certain negative acts could be detrimental to society. Subsequently, the SHC issued notices to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the federal and provincial governments, the Arts Council and other organizations linked to Aurat March, and asked them to submit their response by 19 March.
What is the Aurat March?
Social Movement I Provincial Movements I New Awareness I
The Aurat March is an annual social movement which began in 2018, consisting of women and transgender people from different sectors of life, aiming to raise awareness on women’s rights and equality. Human rights activist Zohra Yusuf stated: “The status of women in our society and the backlash they face is why Aurat March is needed.” An 
opinion in The Express Tribune noted that “while feminism has often been misunderstood and misrepresented in Pakistan, the Aurat March has emerged as a platform for redefining feminism, challenging stereotypes, and advocating for gender equality.” The march itself was influenced by global movements, and is characterized by a “grassroots nature and inclusive approach,” in order to reflect the “varied experiences and challenges encountered by women in Pakistan.”
While “such movements need time to show results,” Aurat March has already “succeeded in creating awareness” which can be proven by the increasing number of participants from “all sections of society.” Participants use popular slogans such as “My body, my choice” and “Khud khana garam karlo (Heat up your own food)”to force discourse on “often overlooked issues.” This year, the march was held on 8 March, which was also International Women’s Day. Alongside the march held in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Larkana, and Hyderabad, there was also an ‘Ehtejaji Mela’ introduced, with the aim of providing a platform for engaging with political art. Marchers held posters inscribed with “Stop gender-based violence” and “Girls just wanna walk home safe,” while sessions on social issues were held ahead of the march. They also recited poetry and held up art pieces.
In Lahore, the theme was “Politics, Resistance, Liberation.” In Karachi, the venue was divided in three tents, focusing on minority rights and forced conversions, the economic rights of women concerning food security and hunger, and transphobia and cissexism in daily lives.
What are the demands?
On 6 March, the Aurat March Lahore chapter presented a 12-point charter of demands, majorly political in nature. An 
opinion in The News International noted that feminist movements in Pakistan should “remain political” as “feminism is intrinsically a political ideology.” Criticizing the Election Commission of Pakistan for failing to hold free and fair elections, they argued for setting up of a “truth and reconciliation commission” with proper representatives, in order to re-establish public trust in the electoral process. They also called for the enforcement on the minimum requirement of five per cent women’s nomination on general seats, adding that marginalized communities would not be truly represented if this number was not increased to 30 per cent. On the topic of Maryam Nawaz becoming the first female Chief Minster of Punjab, they claimed to remain “cautious that having a few women in power means little for the ordinary lot in Punjab unless systemic measures are taken to tackle gender inequality in politics.” Further, they condemned the enforced disappearances in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and termed the decision to deport Afghan refugees from Pakistan as illegal.
Significant focus was given to the war in Gaza and the situation of Palestinians, with Aurat March volunteers underscoring the importance to express solidarity with victims of injustices globally. They emphasized their “responsibility as feminists to stand in solidarity with all oppressed groups, especially those that don’t get media coverage.” Aside from this, they called for rejecting proposed bills which violated the dignity of the transgender community, decriminalization of defamation and sedition laws, including Section 144, restoring student unions on campus, and ending surveillance system which perpetuated a paternalistic vision of women’s safety.
What was the response?
On 8 March, in Islamabad, police forces did not allow participants to go beyond a certain point, and despite the march then being redirected to the Islamabad Press Club, there was heavy police presence. The organizers of the march later alleged that the police pushed participants, including children and the elderly, and on 9 March, they held an emergency conference asking Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to take action against the police brutality. They added: “By preventing us from exercising our democratic rights to protest peacefully, the authorities have displayed a blatant disregard for the voices and concerns of women in Pakistan.”
On 4 March, the Lahore High Court dismissed a petition against the march, which had been filed by a counsel for Azam Ali Butt. The counsel said that while the Aurat March of appeared to have the motive of exposing the problems faced by Pakistani women, the participants allegedly passed indecent comments which were spread on social media, thus negatively impacting society. Citing placards and banners which he deemed controversial, the court was asked to restrain the government from allowing the march.
Women lawyers move SHC against Aurat March,” The Express Tribune, 11 March 2024;
Rizwana Naqvi, “
Be free, be fierce, have fun!” The Express Tribune, 10 March 2024;
Imran Gabol, “
Lahore Aurat March turns political, demands election results transparency,” Dawn, 9 March 2024;
Aleezah Fatimah, “
Aurat March in Karachi focuses on minorities plight, issue of forced conversions,” Dawn, 9 March 2024;
Syeda Alizeh Ahmed, “
Aurat March: Breaking stereotypes and redefining feminism,” The Express Tribune, 8 March 2024;
Benazir Jatoi, “
Why should women march?” The News International, 8 March 2024;
Aniqa Atiq Khan, “
Aurat March: Women take to the streets in cities across Pakistan,” Dawn, 8 March 2024;
Aurat March announces venue, reveal details for this year's 'Ehtejaji Mela',” The Express Tribune, 5 March 2024;
Plea against Aurat March in Lahore dismissed,” Dawn, 5 March 2024

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