A large number of citizens took to the streets in different cities of the country on Saturday to demand justice and structural reform after the shocking gang rape on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway a few days ago.
The organisers of the Aurat March protests — in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Karachi — set forth five demands including an end to violence, affirmative steps by the government to uphold rights and ensure justice, accountability of Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh and any other official who blames the victim, structural and procedural reforms and effective and transparent investigations by the criminal justice system.
The charter of demands included implementation of legislation related to criminal offences such as rape and the protection of transgender persons, banning the two-finger test and providing additional resources and training for reporting, investigation and prosecution of crimes pertaining to sexual violence.
It also demanded that all public spaces be made safe for women, gender-sensitive curricula be introduced and government spending on women's health, education and safety be increased.
Former member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Nasreen Azhar who was present at the protest in Islamabad said that this was not the first incident of abuse in the country and the protesters strongly condemned the rape of a woman on the motorway.
Ismat Shahjahan, president of the Women Democratic Front (WDF) said that women, children and even animals were not safe in the country. "They (women) are unsafe around their relatives at home and around male colleagues in their offices," she said.
She added that a state which failed to provide justice was unacceptable and called for effective punishment instead of strict punishment.
"If you demand public hangings, will you hang half of Pakistan on street corners?" she questioned while alluding to the wide-spread problem. "There are rapists [in this country] from mosques to the Parliament," she claimed.
She said decisions of the country would now be taken by the women. "Change Pakistan's society, traditions and laws," she demanded.
Tooba Syed, a WDF member, said: Women would continue to be raped as long as they were told not to step out of their homes [as opposed to making public spaces safer].""
Maria Malik of the Awami Workers Party said women in Pakistan spent their lives in fear and when they talked about freedom, they were abused. She said rapists would continue to flourish in society as long as the powerful escaped prosecution by the law.
"A child was kidnapped from the area around the prime minister's home and his body was found later. How can a leader who cannot provide justice in his surroundings ensure justice for women?" she questioned.
Women at the protest also chanted slogans.
A large number of protesters also gathered at the Liberty Chowk in Lahore to demand justice for the victim of the motorway gang rape and the removal of the Lahore police chief.
In Karachi, the protest was organised at the Karachi Press Club where a large number of people were gathered. They chanted slogans such as "mera jism, meri marzi" (my body, my choice).