LAHORE: Representatives of a women’s coalition that is organising the Aurat March 2020, have aired their disappointment and anger about a recent incident of vandalism of their art mural, as well as a case petitioned against them in the Lahore High Court.

On Feb 22, a display of posters depicting a variety of issues was set up near Hussain Chowk, Gulberg. Within a matter of four hours, the mural was vandalised, with most of the posters torn down by unknown elements. On Feb 24, a petition was filed in the Lahore High Court by Advocate M. Azhar Siddique.

The petition claimed that the Aurat March was “anti-state and anti-Islamic” and sought a permanent ban on it.

Speaking to Dawn, the women representatives said they could not stop people from marching.

“Organising a march is our basic constitutional right specified in Articles 17 and 19,” said one of the organisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We have also highlighted online and otherwise that we are only taking donations from individuals who support the cause, not from any organisation, NGO, government or foreign entity. The petition has spread misinformation and holds no water,” she contended.

She also condemned the language used in the petition and said it was disrespectful to women everywhere.

Regarding the vandalism incident, the organisers said it was a shameful happening.

“Such incidents show irrational fear and insecurity surfacing, whenever we talk about our basic rights,” said another organiser.

She said all the posters had been about non-controversial issues such as health, child abuse, economic empowerment, and even the Holy Quran giving equal rights to women.

“This is a part of a larger backlash, it is just an idea of what the other side wants,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Aurat March manifesto has also been released with the basic demand of a society without exploitative, patriarchal structures, ensuring equity for all.

This year’s theme for Aurat March Lahore 2020 is “Khud mukhtari” or economic empowerment including the right to control over economic resources, basic bodily rights, access to a justice system, health and education.

Demands include an end to the IMF-sponsored economic policies and budget cuts with immediate control on inflation of basic commodities, provision of safe and equal workplaces through criminalisation of discrimination, including the gender wage gap, and provision of social services to ensure women and gender and sexual minorities’ right to work.

They also demand anti-harassment laws and sexual assault laws be amended to include all genders as potential complainants, including gender and sexual minorities. Kashmir’s right to self-determination be upheld by the international community and on both sides of the Line of Control and justice for all the families of those who have been victims of enforced disappearances are among other issues the coalition wants addressed.

Access to clean air, water, and adequate food be ensured to everyone in Pakistan, is yet another demand.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020

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