KARACHI: They were chanting that they wanted freedom, they wanted azadi to live their life their way. They demanded being treated with respect and dignity. There were red salutes or surkh salam for Asma Jahangir — Asma, tera mission adhura hum sub mil kay karein gey pura [Asma, we will complete your incomplete mission].
A diverse group of women, transgender and non-binary persons under the umbrella of ‘Hum Aurtein’ held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday to apprise the media about the reasons behind the upcoming Aurat March at Frere Hall to coincide with International Women’s Day.
“We march not just to highlight the struggles of women. Aurat March seeks to unite women, transgender and non-binary persons for the cause of gender justice and collective social change based on principles of inclusion, dignity and respect,” said retired Justice Majida Rizvi.
It was in March 2018 that a group of women from various walks of life, backgrounds and professions came together for collective action when they decided to call out to other women to join them for the Aurat March.
In its third year now, the Aurat March this time is expected to be even bigger and better. In the last three years, the posters and placards and the demands raised by the women carrying them have resulted in increased reporting of harassment cases and incidents of violence. More victims have started coming out to demand their rights.
The Hum Aurtein group demands an end to violence, sexual harassment, economic justice, etc
“We need to see a peaceful Pakistan, a just society where everyone is treated with respect. At the Aurat March we raise our voice for all who struggle. We are with them in their struggles,” said women’s rights activist Anis Haroon.
Nuzhat Shirin of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women said that women had always supported each other. “They need to be economically empowered. There are many offices and departments said to be working for the welfare of women but they are not really working like they actually should,” she said.
“She [a woman] should be encouraged to pursue education and she should also feel safe enough to be able to step out of the house. But all this is only possible when we women are able to stand up for ourselves,” she added.
Shahzadi, a transgender person working as a community counsellor, said that she was proud to be a part of the Aurat March. She also raised some of the issues being faced by the transgender community such as no rape law, non-implementation of the five per cent job quota for transgenders in government departments, no transgender representation at the complaint desk for transgender persons, etc.
Writer and researcher Nazish Brohi said that earlier the women here did not have an identity of their own even on their national identity card as they were mentioned by association to a male family member. “Maybe we are not fighting for the issues we used to fight for 40 years ago because we have moved forward from there and evolved but the evolution will be carried forward further by our young generation,” she said.
Representing the minorities, Safina Jawaid said that people belonging to minorities were insecure and defenceless. She also raised the issue of forced conversions of minor girls and their early marriages.
Advocate Abira Ashfaq diverted the attention of the media towards enforced displacements when people’s homes were demolished and their womenfolk who are impacted the most and have to suffer the most. “The interest of builders and developers is not as important as women’s rights,” she said.
The charter of demands read out by the women included an end to violence and sexual harassment, economic justice, reproductive rights, environmental justice, right to the city, minority rights and an end to forced conversions, political participation of women, transgender and non-binary people, stopping the sexist treatment of women and transgenders and rights for the disabled.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2020