Aurat March: Highlight of International Women’s Day celebrations in Pakistan

Pakistan’s women’s collective succeeded in overturning administrative attempts to curb the popular women’s march in Lahore

 International Women’s day

After continued efforts, Pakistan’s women’s collectives succeeded in ensuring that people get to celebrate the Aurat March on March 8, 2022 in Lahore. While the organisations announced this year’s theme as ‘Asal Insaaf or ‘Reimaginig Justice’, cis-women, transgender persons and non-binary folk rejoiced at refuting administrative efforts to stop the march.

What is the Aurat march?

Conceptualised and realized in 2018, the Aurat March are large public demonstrations organised by Pakistani feminist activists all over the country on International Women’s Day.  On this day, the gender-minorities and the oppressed, stand against patriarchal structures that have traditionally caused sexual, economic and structural exploitation. Funded by individual donations, the organisations do not accept money from political parties, corporations or NGOs.

“It is a gathering of women, khwajasira and transgender people from different walks of life. This year too, our volunteers have worked tirelessly to mobilise women in and around Lahore: Ichra, Shahdara, Begumpura, Harbanspura, Chungi, Qainchi, Mall road, Liberty, Wall City, metro bus stations, churches, factories and educational institutions,” said the Lahore Chapter in a press release.

Proud of its non-violent nature, the Lahore Chapter was shocked when on March 4, the city’s Additional Deputy Commissioner refused permission for the march citing “security threats and possible conflict on the roads”.

Aurat March 2022

Condemning the administration’s attempts to hush the rights march, the Chapter wrote to the Lahore High Court for permission to exercise the right to march. In it, organisers argued that the freedom of assembly and to organise, hold peaceful processions and protests is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in the Pakistan Consitution’s Article 16, 17 and 19.

Regarding the city instruction, organisers said, “We see this as a discriminatory and disproportionate practice originating from fear of enlightened women reclaiming public spaces which are rightfully theirs.”

On March 7, the Islamabad Chapter spoke of similar struggles.

Fortunately for the Lahore Chapter, the Court observed the administration has not stopped them from marching. Moreover, after the disposal of the petition, ADC Dr. Atiya Sultan met with the Chapter personnel and assured them of full security for the march in Lahore. Organisers thanked the “women in public office who pave the way and understand our movement and its importance”.

Reimagining Justice and other demands

This year’s theme is Asal Insaaf or Reimagining Justice to highlight women and gender minorities issues prevalent within the legal system. The march will also focus on how the current system is inadequate for survivors of violence.

“Aurat March Lahore urges thinking about justice and what it means; expanding its possibilities beyond the limited terms of the justice system and laws,” it said in the Charter of Demands 2022. As per the document, the primary demand of the march will be the radical and structural reform of the patriarchal policing and judicial systems, rather than superficial gender representation of women and gender minorities.

Further, organisers stressed the need for more funding of survivor-centric welfare institutions to provide shelter, housing, healthcare, psycho-social services and other measures to survivors of violence. Further, they demanded that the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 be implemented along with the establishment of crisis centers and adequate funding. They also asked that the government’s Sehat Card cover mental health support and services.

In terms of reformation, people urged that the government do away with the death penalty, chemical castrations and similar punishments as a solution to violence. They reasoned that these do not work as meaningful deterrents. Instead, the system should shift to preventative policies relating to education, community building and social welfare should drive the solutions.

Like India, neighboring Pakistan also has criminal defamation. The rights groups demanded that such laws be immediately decriminalised because “they are a stark reminder of how the criminal justice system is actively anti-survivor.” Members also suggested that the funding of “safe city projects”, costing the public billions of rupees be redirected to survivor-support and welfare programs.

Regarding economic issues, people asked that the government ensure universal basic income and care work income for all. Organisers demanded that unpaid labour of women be valued as equally important as “paid” labour normally performed by men. They also condemned the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-driven measures that resulted in privatisation and unprecedented inflation termed “anti-poor” and benefiting global capitalism.

With regards to transgender rights, the March demands that the government cease attacks on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 and take proactive action to ensure implementation of the law at the provincial level. They also demanded that the government immediately stop forced conversions.

“We demand that the State go beyond merely criminalising forced conversions, addressing the social, economic and political power structures that allow for these conversions to take place with impunity,” said the Aurat March organisers.

Since the March also acknowledges the dangers of climate change, it asked that the government recognise the displacement and migration caused by the climate crisis as a public emergency and provide housing for all as per Article 38 of the Pakistan constitution. Accordingly, it asked for immediate measures to address Lahore’s deteriorating air quality.

Meanwhile, the International theme for March 8 is ‘Breaking the Bias’. The theme hints for focused effort to address bias rather than passive statements of empowerment. In this respect, the Aurat March has been widely successful in truly breaking the bias and asserting their human right to dissent.


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