The brave and resolute women of this country are marching today to demand the justice, equality and respect they deserve.

To mark International Women’s Day, participants of the Aurat March are demonstrating in several cities, calling for an end to violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

In the past two years, this movement has attracted thousands of protesters and has remained peaceful and well-organised. Armed with placards, posters and an unflinching determination, women are taking to the streets in a public show of power, despite the hatred and vitriol spewed on them by their detractors.

It is clear that for some critics, the notion that women can take ownership of their bodies and their lives is a triggering factor.

In previous years, the post-Aurat March days saw photo-shopped images of marchers carrying provocative posters which were not written by them go viral — images that are still used to discredit the movement.

The swelling backlash and abuse directed at women advocating Aurat March this year is unprecedented.

On social and mainstream media, the atmosphere created by those who feel threatened and insecure about women marching for their rights is a cause for concern.

Death and rape threats have been hurled at activists posting about the march online. In Islamabad, a mural painted on a wall to show solidarity with the women’s movement was brazenly blackened and defaced by vandals, reportedly in the presence of the capital’s police.

Read: Jamia Hafsa students claim responsibility for defacing feminist mural in Islamabad

A Lal Masjid spokesperson said the vandalism had Maulana Abdul Aziz’s blessings, while Jamia Hafsa students have vowed to launch a ‘counter protest’.

The JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman, too, has gone as far as to threaten that the march would be stopped at all cost.

In light of this highly charged and toxic environment, it is incumbent upon the federal and provincial governments to ensure that the Aurat March participants are provided security and that those threatening intimidation and violence are stopped. The authorities will be held responsible if any violent confrontation occurs at peaceful demonstrations where citizens are exercising their democratic rights.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2020

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