–Colourful posters carrying catchy slogans become highlight of International Women’s Day
–Minorities call on govt to fill gaps in legal framework, improve coordination between institutions for better implementation
LAHORE: Hundreds marched for women’s rights from Lahore’s Press Club on Friday, passing through Charing Cross to Alhamra Arts Council. The trees inside sheltered the congregation that had gathered for the International Women’s Day as people held out colourful posters with catchy slogans demanding economic and reproductive justice. As speakers blared out music, women danced for it was “their day”.
The march, that initially took place last year, attracted larger crowds this time. Similar marches took place in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Larkana, Multan and Faisalabad. Though the Aurat March claimed to have no affiliation with any political party or non-governmental organisation, different groups lent their support.
Representatives from the Awami Workers Party (AWP), Progressive Students Collective (PSC), Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), Women’s Collective, Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) and Girls at Dhabas participated in the march. The activists campaigned for humanitarian, political and environmental causes and lamented the inadequate implementation of preventative laws.
Transgender rights activists demanded government’s cooperation in ensuring their safety. “We struggled and got the Transgender Protection Act approved. Now the onus is on the [PTI] government to ensure that the law is implemented,” a representative asserted.
Women belonging to minorities demanded the implementation of the rules of business of the Hindu and Sikh Marriage Acts passed by the former government.
Ayra, a student from Kinnaird College, called for an amendment in the primitive Christian Divorce Law that considers ‘adultery’ as a valid cause of ending a marriage.
Shamsa Inaam, a doctor who took time out to attend the march, told Pakistan Today that part of blame for Pakistan’s humanitarian failure can be put on the “weakness of our institutions”.
Muhammad Fazil Bhatti, a social worker who runs a school to educate children growing up in slums, agreed that the current lapses in the provision of women’s rights can be blamed on the lack of coordination between different institutions and a history of bad precedents in the judicial process.
WOMEN IN POLITICS:
Pakistan Today reached out to different attendees to find out what compelled them to join. Shireen, one of the volunteers and a political science student at the Government College University, said she feels women suffer from “deprivation in politics”.
“I had heard of a so-called brotherhood but only got to know about a ‘sisterhood’ after I joined feminist activist circles. Events like [the march] allow women to reach out to each other and understand what is it to be a woman in politics,” she said.
Diep Saeeda, founder of the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS), has been participating in such marches since the 1980s when women came out on roads to protest their persecution under military dictator Ziaul Haq’s regime. She told Pakistan Today that women’s issues need to enter the discourse in mainstream media so lapses in the legal framework can be countered and incidents of abuse can be reported.
Sabahat Zakariya, a Lahore-based journalist, concurred with Saeeda that while laws need to be improved, more can be done to increase social awareness regarding women-related issues. “We need to increase media representation and converse about rigid gender roles. And when women come out of homes to march and talk, it opens new avenues of discussion,” she said.
This year, the march attracted women from all social sectors. Working class women holding flags with one hand stopped to buy fruit from roadside vendors. Parents brought children, with smog masks in hand, to protect from Lahore’s hazardous air. When questioned on the social inclusivity of the march, Shireen revealed that the volunteers spent three months planning for the event, making posters and reaching out to rights groups which allowed them to own up their privilege.
Zakariya, however, argued that the discussion needs to move beyond urban privilege. “I recognise that an urban woman has the privilege of education and events like this allow people to acknowledge that, but the issue for such a woman is now beyond the provision of education. It seems that even this freedom comes with a boundary.”
“They [people] are okay with education but they still expect you to carry on with the family traditions and not soil their name, god forbid,” she added.
The event ended with a musical performance by Meesha Shafi, a skit performed by student-based theatre group Azaad Fankar and speeches by feminist and transgender rights activists.
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