Two steps back

March 23, 2019

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IT seems as if nothing brings together men of competing ideologies closer than their shared mistrust of women asserting their agency. On Wednesday, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning Aurat March that was observed across Pakistan on March 8. The resolution was presented by a woman parliamentarian from the MMA, levelling charges of “obscenity” against the protesters and their use of certain placards and slogans during the marches. The parliamentarians referred to the women — who consisted of a cross-section of society, belonging to a range of professions, of varying education levels — as “shameless”. They complained that these “handful of women” (and men) were out to destroy the institution of the “family” and were part of an insidious “conspiracy” to destroy the very fabric of the nation. As hyperbolic as they may sound to more level-headed readers, none of these reactions are particularly new or shocking. Such accusations have always been levelled against women’s movements both within and outside this country in every decade. Each time women have collectively taken a stand against the injustices faced by their gender, or demanded equality in the eyes of the law and society, they have faced a backlash from reactionary forces. But perhaps the most peculiar of the complaints was with regard to one of the placards in Karachi that read: “apna moza khud dhoondo (find your own socks)” — an innocuous, non-threatening and light-hearted message … one would think. And yet a KP parliamentarian felt affected enough to voice his concerns about the cruelty of expecting him to find his own socks at his age.

Unlike the Aurat March of last year, which was only held in Karachi and where criticisms were largely restricted to social media and away from the eyes of the mainstream, this Aurat March seems to have unsettled the corridors of power. The JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman lambasted the ruling party for allowing activities on International Women’s Day, and ominously added that his party workers would curtail such activities themselves in the future if the government failed to do so; many will construe his remarks as a threat aimed at stopping women protesters. Meanwhile, the KP Assembly seems to be in no hurry to pass the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill. Perhaps they should reflect on why a few women’s words offend them more than the violence that women face in their daily lives.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019