Activists raise slogans outside the press club on Saturday.—White Star
Activists raise slogans outside the press club on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: They pointed fingers. They were enraged. Protesting outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday, there were old women, young women, girls, women in shalwar kameez, women in jeans and T-shirts, women in tights, women in long skirts, women with dupattas, women without dupattas, women with banners, women with loudspeakers and women who screamed so loudly that they didn’t even need loudspeakers.

And it was heartening to find so many men with them, chanting the same demands: justice for the victim and taking to task the Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh. Similar protests were being held simultaneously all over the country.

News of the sad incident of gang rape of a mother in front of her children along the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway became even worse after CCPO Sheikh was blaming the victim for being responsible for what happened to her.

One group of enraged women led by social activist Sheema Kermani of Hum Aurtein and Tehrik-i-Niswan were chanting slogans such as “Mera jism, meri marzi [my body, my choice]”, “Meray kapray, meri marzi [my clothes, my choice]”, “Aurat mangay azaadi [women want independence]” and “Jaag riasat jaag [wake up state wake up]”.

Protesters call for stopping anti-women propaganda in media

They were also joined by women from Aurat March, Women’s Democratic Chapter, Siyasi Aurtein and Baloch Yakjehti Committee.

“Is even a six-month old baby girl safe in this country where people can have a mindset like CCPO Umar Sheikh?” Qurat Mirza of Hum Aurtein asked.

The women who represented Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), National Trade Union Federation, National Trade Union Alliance, Shehri Awami Mahaz and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), headed by HBWWF general secretary Zehra Khan, said that it was necessary that the state change its anti-women narrative. “Today a girl playing in the street, a boy going to a seminary, female students going to their schools and colleges and women at workplaces are not safe from sexual violence. Even dead bodies of women are not safe,” said Ms Khan.

“Growing violence against women, children and transgender people shows the increasing tendencies of violence, intolerance and sexual frustration in our society. The negative remarks of CCPO Lahore depict the thinking that was introduced in our society by dictator General Ziaul Haq,” she added.

Capital punishment supported

Karamat Ali of Piler said that he was against capital punishment. “But I would like to see the rapists being given the death penalty. Rape is worse than high treason in my opinion,” he said.

The speakers at the protest said that the government through people such as the CCPO was promoting the narrative that the real place of females was inside their homes.

They are not considered equal citizens. However, even inside the four walls of their homes, women and girls are not safe from violence. They said when women demand equal rights they are opposed on the basis of religion and morality and their struggle is termed a tool of Western propaganda.

They said that for protection of the vulnerable sections of society, including women, girls, children and transgender people, all progressive, liberal, social and political workers should join hands.

They said this is the last chance for the judiciary and administration to play their role in checking the growing trends of violence and hatred.

They also said that all discriminatory laws against women and minorities should be withdrawn.

The CCPO Lahore should be sacked immediately; the government should take firm steps to end violence and discrimination against women, girls, transgender people, children, minorities and workers. Homes, workplaces and offices should be made safe for women. Vigilance committees should be formed at workplaces to stop harassment of women. Laws should be strictly implemented to end sexual violence at workplaces. The law enforcers should be given awareness of gender-related issues. And anti-women propaganda in media should be stopped.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2020

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