KARACHI: A collective of women from diverse affiliations, backgrounds and professions referring to themselves as ‘Hum Aurtein’ gathered at the Karachi Press Club on Monday to introduce and brief the media about the upcoming Aurat March to commemorate International Women’s Day.
It was said that Aurat March is unique because it is a collective effort not led by a single group or organisation. “As a result the march has been organised by ‘Hum Aurtein’ made up of women belonging to diverse classes, ethnicities and sections of society that not only comprises those planning the event but also includes participants,” said classical dancer and peace activist Sheema Kermani.
“We will gather at Frere Hall at 4pm on March 8. Besides marching to bring attention to the issues faced by women in our country there would also be skits, talks and other activities,” she said.
There were some 15 women seated next to Ms Kermani at the press conference. Moniza, another peace activist, said that the march has been inspired and fuelled by the momentum of women movements and struggles worldwide. “We also wish to highlight through this march a diverse range of issues to express our solidarity with all women here and in other countries about the connected nature of our struggles that we get to see through the #MeToo hashtag on social media and their responses,” she said.
“There is sexual harassment, child abuse, unequal pay scales, so many injustices that women are facing everywhere,” she added.
Another activist, Bushra Arain, said that they see political platforms everywhere but have now found Hum Aurtein, which is not a political platform. “Aurat March is not funded by political parties, NGOs or groups. It is a citizen-led effort being funded with small contributions from individuals. It is all being done on voluntary basis,” she pointed out.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq said that she was there representing the minority Christian group. “Women are marginalised anyway and life for a non-Muslim girl can be even worse. There are forced conversions for some while others are made sex workers,” she shared.
“Our Constitution is confused. All citizens are equal according to it but are they really?” said Sabiha Javed, representing another minority women’s organisation.
Saira Feroze from Home-Based Women Workers Federation said that home-based women workers work as hard as any other worker but are not given any facilities that a factory worker may get.
Abida Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research pointed out that the platform may not be political but their demands are very much political.
Soha Tanvir Khan from the Aurat March organising committee also said that the time had come to collectively recognise each other’s problems and then collectively stand up for justice.
Esther Jane, who is a visually impaired teacher, said that when women have a disability their challenges multiply. “We can’t even go out of the house due to insecurity,” she said.
Finally, the women outlined a four-point manifesto regarding their key areas of concern about which they wanted to raise their voice at the Aurat March.
They said they wanted to see an end to violence against women carried out and promoted by patriarchal forces as well as state-backed violence targeting activists and communities.
They wanted an economy that is equitable and transparent where all workers have access to a living wage, affordable healthcare for themselves and their families, and workplaces free from harassment and discrimination.
Another demand was to see all women have the right to make informed decisions about pregnancy and childbirth and access to quality and affordable reproductive health services.
Every person and community should have the right to clean water, clean air, access to and enjoyment of public lands. Our climate and natural resources must be protected for ourselves and the future generations.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2018