PESHAWAR: Fearing hostilities in the provincial capital the women’s rights activists here opted to join Aurat March in Islamabad, leaving the field open for the anti-march supporters of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F -- that had threatened to disrupt the march by force -- and Jamaat-i-Islami.
While streets remained empty of marchers, some of the civil society organisations observed the International Women’s Day indoors. A number of organisations working for women rights, including the Women Democratic Front (WDF), organised a seminar titled “Peace and the Pakhtun women” at the Peshawar Press Club.
As the city’s leading men and women activists, both social and political, dedicated the day to women polio workers killed for waging a valiant campaign against the debilitating disease despite threats and attacks from militants, JUI-F and JI supporters gathered outside the press club to hold what they called “Haya March” – modesty march – as part of their plan for the International Women’s Day.
“The environment in Peshawar was hostile towards marchers,” said Saima Munir, a rights activist.
“In view of threats we had to change our strategy and took out a rally on Saturday evening [instead of Sunday, the International Women’s Day, when the Aurat March was originally planned for]. We decided to go join the marchers in Islamabad.”
Join Aurat March in Islamabad
The two events brought into a sharp relief the deep-seated biases and polarisation over the question of women rights. Women participants at the ‘Haya March’ held up placards advocating purdah, while those inside the press club demanded an end to the “fake war” in the land of Pakhtuns that had displaced millions, vitiating an already deplorable situation of women rights and exposing rights activists to harm.
“The society can only be free if its women are free,” said a participant at the seminar.
The state and the media should stop propaganda meant to suppress women voices so the rights of women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can be ensured and their exploitation stopped.” Among the attendants were WDF’s Mumtaz Tajik, Awami National Party’s Professor Sarfaraz, Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement’s Kamran Khan, Awami Worker’s Party GS Mulka Khan, Kandi Waak Tehrik’s Shahab Khattak and others.
At the ‘Haya March’ outside the press club, participants said a “modest woman” was a source of pride for parents, a “valued asset” for the husband and a role model for her children and family.
“The provocative slogans of Aurat March are an insult to women,” said a speaker on the occasion. “We won’t let non-government organisations raise such slogans because women are given complete rights in Islam.”
Among the participants at the ‘Haya March’ were the JUI-F emir Maulana Abdul Rauf, provincial secretary for information Abdul Jalil Jan and women wing leader Rihaana Ismail.
Meanwhile, JI had organised its own “Sanctity of women march” in the city, where participants said that the solution to women’s problems was not in hollow slogans but in recourse to a life of modesty in the light of religious injunctions.
“More than 75 per cent women in Pakistan are not literate,” said JI emir for KP, Senator Mushtaq Ahmad.
“The liberal parties and the government are responsible for this sad state of affairs. The foreign-funded NGOs and women rights groups should ask the government for rights instead of promoting western culture and agenda.”
He said the NGOs were trying to promote western culture in our society. He said JI would fight for the rights of women in Pakistan and would block western culture at any cost.
Mazdoor Kissan Party organised seminar in Charsadda in connection with the International Women’s Day. Speaking on the occasion the party provincial convener, Aisha Israr, said that women had revolted against colonial powers in 1857. She said the party would play lead role to safeguard fundamental rights of women.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020