The Aurat March is undoubtedly a monumental event for Pakistanis. It has started conversations, opened doors, and created a space where women can finally express themselves. Women in Pakistan face a plethora of institutional discrimination and physical violence – this movement is the face of the pushback.
What exactly is the Aurat March? Aurat is the Urdu word for ‘woman.’ The Aurat March is an annual social and political demonstration organized in various cities of Pakistan coinciding with International Women’s Day – March 8th.
The first Aurat March in Pakistan was held in 2018 in Karachi. The year later, it was held in cities all over the country. It was organized by different organizations in each city, but the goals were always similar.
The March in Pakistan wants more accountability for violence against women and support for women who experience violence and harassment at the hands of security forces, in public spaces, at home, and in the workplace.
International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8th, is about voicing and eliminating discrimination against women, granting them economic, political, social, and cultural equality, and laws to protect women in their respected countries.
Against the backdrop of deep-rooted socio-religio-political patriarchal structures of Pakistan, women in the state face many social ills and systemic discrimination.
What does this mean? It means that women in Pakistan face things such as:
- Forced and early childhood marriage
- Lack of formal public education opportunities
- Domestic violence
- Sexual harassment / sexual violence at home and in public spaces
- Significant wage gap
- Appropriation of rights and abuse for purposes of revenge, including acid attacks and honor killings
In 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement across the world, a new generation of women began challenging the status quo, in an effort to take the movement for gender equality to women in South Asia.
Hence the Aurat March was born, with the first one taking place on March 8th, 2018 in Karachi.
Why has it taken so long for the Aurat March to become a regular occurrence? Something similar did almost happen before, back in 1983. This was during the peak of General Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. 400 female activists staged a public demonstration in Lahore.
Police descended upon the crowd, and pictures like those above still haunt the consciousnesses and memories of Pakistani women today.
The Women’s Action Forum (WAF), which organized that first protest back in 1983, remains an institution for women’s rights in Pakistan.
The Aurat March has seen some immense success. Previously restricted topics such as women’s rights to their own bodies and sexuality are being discussed openly for the first time.
This year, themes for the March include:
- The Women’s Health Crisis (Lahore)
- Anti-Patriarchal Violence (Karachi)
- Economic Justice for Women (Islamabad)