Streetwise Society

On Pakistan's marching women

'This Is Not Your Father's Street': Scene from Aurat March in Karachi  

All is not quiet on our western border. Nothing to do with ‘war’ and ‘terrorism’, the usual suspects when talking of our neighbouring state. I refer instead to Pakistan’s marching women and the upheaval they’ve triggered walking the streets of Pakistan, along with transsexual, queer and heterosexual male allies, this International Women’s Day.

As they marched chanting slogans about their everyday realities and aspirations in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Quetta, Peshawar, and Faisalabad, they were applauded by many. “This is unprecedented. This is at the heart of feminist liberation,” says Sadia Khatri, founder, Girls at Dhabas, who participated in the Karachi march.

Unfortunately, as images of the Aurat March and its colourful posters and placards went viral online, a number of Pakistanis, mostly men but also some women, condemned it for precisely the reasons that the women who participated celebrated it. What has particularly got their goat are provocative placards that focus on female agency, such as ‘Akeli, Awaara, Azaad’ (Alone, Loiterer, Free) and cheeky posters (with serious subtexts) directed towards men.

'Our Time Has Come': Aurat March in Karachi

'Our Time Has Come': Aurat March in Karachi  

“Many posters that dealt with some key aspects of patriarchal domination were sidelined as not being ‘real’ issues, but these affect women and cannot be divorced from other areas such as employment, poverty and housing,” says Nida Kirmani, a feminist sociologist at Lahore University of Management Sciences and participant in the Lahore Aurat March.

So affronted have been Pakistani conservatives that one legislator wants a legal case filed against the marchers, because if ignored “things will go beyond boundaries”, he said. More surprising has been the reaction of feminist poet Kishwar Naheed, outraged at the use of the word ‘Awaara’ at the march. She declared that feminists should coin slogans keeping culture/tradition in mind.

Our Time Is Now: Aurat March in Karachi

Our Time Is Now: Aurat March in Karachi  

Pakistani women marchers are now being trolled and threatened. Instead of backing down, they are facing the storm. “I take heart in the severity of backlash for a simple reason: men, and other stakeholders in the patriarchy, are afraid. They see the roots of their privilege under threat,” says Karachi marcher Ghausia Rashid Salam. “Women in public spaces, speaking up for their rights, asserting themselves, LGBTQI folks marching alongside CIS-HET folks, all of this indicative of a rising tide in Pakistan.”

Sadia believes there is no turning back. “Women are now not just stepping out of the binaries set for them, we’re experiencing the power in pushing boundaries,” she says. Ghausia declares, “We are tired, we are angry, we cannot be polite and decent in pursuit of our rights. This is what we marched for, so as much of an ordeal it has been for feminists to keep fighting and defending ourselves or each other, it still counts as a huge victory.” To pull up one more placard from the march: ‘Apna Time Aa Gaya’ (Our Time Has Come)!

(Sameera Khan is a Mumbai-based journalist, researcher and co-author, Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets)

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 12:30:58 AM |

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