‘We also need men to join us in our struggle for women’s rights’

March 06, 2019

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REPRESENTATIVES of Hum Aurtein speak outside Empress Market on Tuesday.—White Star
REPRESENTATIVES of Hum Aurtein speak outside Empress Market on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: The Aurat March being held to commemorate the International Women’s Day on March 8 is expected to see a large number of women joining the rally commencing from the Frere Hall lawns here on the day.

This was announced by Hum Aurtein, representing no political party, non-governmental organisation or any particular group but just women from different walks of life who believe in themselves and the social change that they can bring about by joining forces.

The press conference held outside the main entrance to the Empress Market to share their plans for the march on Tuesday included social activists, artists, lawyers, vendors, hawkers, fisherwomen, women from minority communities as well as transgender women.

Amid the traffic and hustle bustle of the market there was the chanting of slogans such as ‘Aayee, aayee aurat aayee [Here comes the woman]’, ‘Aao haq ki baat karein, qadam mila ke aagay chalein [Come let’s match strides as we talk of our rights]’ and ‘Yaksan kaam, yaksan ujrat [Equal payment for the same kind of work as done by men]’. Pink, yellow and blue banners and flyers with sketches of women marching for their rights were raised and distributed.

Aurat March planned for 8th

“We call ourselves Hum Aurtein as we represent every woman here no matter what caste, creed or religion she hails from,” said classical dancer and social activist Sheema Kermani. “We are women who work as hard as men and want to be treated equally, and with equal respect. We want to make our own decisions about things such as marriage and children and whether we even want children.”

10,000 women expected at rally

About the upcoming Aurat March, she said that last year saw the gathering of some 5,000 women looking to change the political landscape and this year they are expecting even double the number as they visited many women in areas such as Lyari, Orangi and Korangi in order to increase their awareness of their rights and mobilise them.

Fatima Majeed, representing the fisherfolk community, said she worked as hard as men and wanted to be paid equally for her labour. “We need to raise our voices where it comes to earning equal wages for equal amount of work. Also, I want to tell others how difficult it gets for us fisherfolk to make ends meet during the two-month-long fishing ban every year,” she said.

Sassui Lohar, the daughter of a teacher who went missing some time ago, said that she wanted to raise her voice for all the missing persons and their families here. “People see us women as weak but even though we don’t have weapons we can fight for our rights,” she said.

Bindiya Rana, representing the transgender community, said they needed to be free and self-sufficient. “Strong women can lead a strong society,” she said.

Pastor Ghazala Shafique, a voice for minority women, pointed towards the injustice of forced conversions of Christian and Hindu girls. She also said that people hailing from the minority communities were deprived of compensations in case of any untoward incident or a hate crime.

Also speaking for minorities, Safina Gill said that they were visiting areas where the minorities were in a majority to make them aware of their rights so that they could stand up for themselves.

Seema Maheshwari, representing the Hindu community, also said that a woman whatever community she hails from is first a woman and a human being.

Speaking about the problems faced by women lawyers, Shumaila Shahani, said that there were no sexual harassment committees in courts. “We are told that this is so because there have been no complaints of sexual harassment there. Let’s gather at the Aurat March on March 8 and talk more on this,” she said.

Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, spoke about making institutions strong so that they could help people find justice through redress mechanisms and implementation of laws. “We also need men to join us and show solidarity with us in our struggle for women’s rights,” she said.

Jyoti, who represents the women vendors and hawkers of Empress Market, said that they were simple women trying to earn a decent living until they became victims of the anti-encroachment drive. “I will join the march to tell others about our hardships. I will also demand an alternative place from the government to resume my business which I had inherited from my mother,” she said.

Activist Qurrat Ul Ain Mirza also explained that the purpose of holding their press conference at the Empress Market was to acknowledge the struggles of poor women like Jyoti who are some of the worst effected of the unplanned anti-encroachment drive.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2019