KARACHI: The much-awaited Aurat March organised by Hum Aurtein to celebrate International Women’s Day saw a large number of women, girls and even men gathering at the Frere Hall lawns here on Friday afternoon.

There were social activists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, business executives, journalists, students, entrepreneurs, factory workers, vendors and hawkers, athletes, female cab drivers, policewomen and housewives all united for one single cause — raising their voices against the injustices women today have to face in our society.

And they were holding up some interesting placards that said things such as ‘I am every woman’, ‘Cats against catcalls’, ‘Emotional labour ke paisay do [pay us for the emotional labour]’, ‘Haq ki taraf naya qadam [a new step towards the right path]’, etc.

Some volunteers were also distributing little pink and yellow paper flags with some of the things concerning women today which they hope to change such as wishing for an end to violence, economic justice, reproductive justice, environmental justice, more political participation of women, not falling prey to medical negligence and their having a right to the city they live in.

Octogenarian Hashmat Bano, who shared that she had bad knees, said that that wasn’t going to keep her from joining the march.

‘It is great to see the democratising of Women’s Day’

“I had been hearing about the Aurat March on FM radio for days. So today I just hailed a rickshaw which was not too difficult to find where I live near Jama Cloth Market and just came here. I may be very old and not as active as the others here but I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here,” she said.

Asked if her family had come with her also, she smiled and quickly shook her head. “I never married and I have no regrets about it,” she laughed.

Next to her sat Naila, a captain with a hide-hailing firm who said she was proud of it. “I have been driving my cab for three years now. This is not the time for us women to sit at home and do nothing. I have three daughters and two sons back home and I am a living example of being a better breadwinner than men for my children,” she said.

Holding a placard that read ‘I am every woman’, psycho-legal counsellor MJ said that she truly felt that way after helping so many women and also identifying with them.

A girl and boy covering their faces with red scarves and calling themselves Venus and Mr Iris, respectively, said that they were at the march without telling their parents. “My parents think I am at school right now,” said Venus. “And mine think I am at an extended lunch,” said Mr Iris.

DSP Welfare Naz Parveen was there in her police uniform but she said she was not really on duty despite being in uniform. “I am a single parent of two girls. When my husband walked out on me my older daughter was three and the younger only four months old. Thank God my parents had educated me and I could earn myself and raise my daughters, one of whom is in college now and the other in class nine. They are here too somewhere, enjoying themselves in this crowd. I had to come with them,” she said.

Neha Mashooqullah came with her friend Paro, who, if you must know, happened to be a female dog she recently adopted from the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation animal shelter. Both dog and owner seemed thrilled to be there.

Up on stage, classical dancer and social activist Sheema Kermani together with women’s rights activist Qurat ul Ain Mirza were busy spreading awareness about women’s rights as they also chanted slogans such as “Inquilab zindabad! [Long live the spirit of revolution] as they called on other friends to join them in singing songs of hope such as ‘Darya ki qasam, mojoan ki qasam ...’, ‘Har aurat anmol ...’, ‘Hum maaein, hum behne, hum baitiyan ...’ and the like.

The dominant colour on the stage was orange to signify courage, determination and success. The songs were followed by several street theatre performances.

Intermittently students of Khatoon-i-Pakistan and SMB Fatima Jinnah Govt Girls School came up to deliver speeches.

Nisha, another social activist, read out a poem about women in Sindh. Rehana, a Special Olympics gold medallist, also came up to talk about facing challenges in the field of sports despite one’s limitations. Fami and Laxmi, two dried fruit vendors who had been removed from the Empress Market during the anti-encroachment drive, spoke about their hardships.

Senior journalist Zubaida Mustafa said it was great to see the democratising of the Women’s Day with such celebrations that were open for everyone. “You see, seminars are for just a select few people but this march draws out all women from all walks of life,” she observed.

Another journalist, Deneb Sumbul, was busy taking plenty of photographs for her publication. She said that she was happy to see not just the women gathered for the march but also several men there too. “Some are here to support the cause and I respect them for it, while some are here out of curiosity,” she smiled hoping that they would go back home enlightened.

Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum said that it was good to hear the women openly discuss their issues. “I have also seen women repeat the male viewpoint many a time but they should give their own narratives to make the men aware of their problems instead of repeating what the men say,” he said.

Human rights activist Anis Haroon said that it was great to see so many courageous young women talk their mind. “Not just here, they are coming out all over the country in every city. The system has to change to accommodate all women,” she said.

Finally, the march around Frere Hall concluded the day’s celebrations.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019

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