Marches across several cities in country, commonly referred to as Aurat March, were carried out on Tuesday in connection with International Women’s Day as women raised their voice 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 Islamabad, 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.
A slightly different event by the name of Aurat Azadi March was held in Islamabad but was held earlier than usual this year in the form of a rally at the capital’s F9 Park on March 6. This development caused young activists across the capital to fill in the vacuum of the Aurat Azadi March by organising a whole new Aurat March Islamabad which began at 1pm from the Islamabad Press Club.
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 lead up 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.