Pakistan's Aurat March: A Controversial Protest for Gender Equality
Since 2018, Pakistan’s Aurat March, held annually on International Woman’s Day, has drawn
thousands of protesters demanding economic equality and reproductive rights for women.
The march was initially founded by a small group of women who mobilized in the port city of Karachi on March 8 demanding an end to violence and harassment. Many women in Pakistan claim that they do not feel safe in public spaces due to prevalent harassment.
Women and girls also face abuses that include impunity for perpetrators who inflict “honor
violence” against them. This type of violence usually transpires when a family member brings dishonor to a family, which results in the killing of the family member. Activists estimate that there are about 1,000 honor killings in Pakistan every year.
The annual Aurat March is incredibly controversial in Pakistan. During this year’s march, protestors endured physical attacks in the capital of Islamabad. Counter-protestors who were a part of the Haya March (March for Modesty) pelted Aurat Marchers with stones and shoes, according to reports.
Some protestors also claim that they received death and rape threats for participating in the
march. One artist who created a political poster about the march said that the public reaction was so negative she’s afraid to speak out using her real name.
Some of the signs that marchers held advocated for bodily autonomy with phrases like,
“mera jism meri marzi” (my body, my choice). Critics said that the signs were obscene since
bodily autonomy incites a conversation about female sexuality, which is contrary to the doctrine of female modesty.
Opponents of the Aurat March have chanted that a women’s place is “chadar aur char diwari," meaning “veiled and within four walls.”
This year, a petition was presented to the high court in Lahore to stop the march because critics believed that the march’s goal was to “spread anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy, and hatred of Islam.” Chief Justice Athar Minallah ruled that the march could be held, but that participants need to adhere to “decency and moral values.”
Some of Pakistan’s biggest celebrities came out to support this year’s march including Nadia
Afghan, who is a director, actress, and producer. She held a sign that read: “My uncle
molested me at age 12. Nobody believed me.” Activist and award winning journalist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy carried a sign emphasizing how it is a woman’s fundamental right to forge her own identity before she is recognized as someone’s mother, wife, sister, or daughter.
An Aurat March organizer said in an interview: “I also believe that every woman is resisting
patriarchy every day. Not every woman takes to the street. Whether it is women like myself as part of a political group or the woman negotiating some extra time outside the house, we are all resisting.”