The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called out the daily Ummat newspaper for using "unethical and inappropriate language" against participants of the Aurat March, demanding that it publish an apology.
In its April 5 issue, Urdu-language daily Ummat published a front-page story, the headline of which stated that sexual violence was committed the most against women in 14 countries.
The shoulder of the story mentioned that these 14 countries included the US, Japan, Sweden, South Africa, India, Bangladesh and other African countries.
Using demeaning language for the participants of the march, the daily said they didn’t notice incidents of sexual violence in non-Muslim countries.
The offensive line, which was apparently intended to highlight that Pakistan was not among the countries where rape and violence against women is most rife, was criticised by women's rights activists, journalists and social media users.
"HRCP condemns the use of unethical and inappropriate language against women in the daily #Ummat. The newspaper must publish an unconditional apology and refrain from using such language in future," a tweet by the commission said on Monday.
The Aurat March Lahore retweeted a statement by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which condemned what it called the "uncalled for, unethical and immoral attack on women" in the newspaper.
PFUJ urged the All Pakistan Newspapers Society to take immediate and appropriate action against the management of daily Ummat.
Speaking on DawnNewsTV’s programme Zara Hat Kay, renowned dramatist Noorul Huda Shah said the expletive in Urdu used by Ummat refers to prostitutes in street language.
"These girls who participated in the Aurat March [...] whether you agree with them or not, they are part of this ummah," she added, calling the use of the word "shameful".
Educator and researcher Meraj Hasan said the daily's use of such language against Aurat March participants was "highly condemnable".
"Society needs to understand how to treat women with respect even those one disagrees with. It is critical towards ending misogyny," he tweeted.
Journalist Sumaira Jajja said she was "absolutely disgusted" after reading the Ummat report. "This sickness needs to be called out and condemned," she wrote.
Aurat March has become an annual feature since 2018 and every year faces backlash from certain religio-political groups, who have been opposing the event.
The marches are organised in major cities to highlight issues faced by women and condemning incidents of violence against them as well as gender discrimination, economic exploitation and misogyny.
Following this year’s march on International Women’s Day, heated debates were once again seen on social media for and against the march.
Last month, a video from the demonstration held in Karachi was doctored to falsely show participants raising blasphemous slogans and widely shared online.
The organisers of Aurat March clarified that the participants of the march did not raise such slogans and their video was edited to defame their struggle.
People also mistook flags of the Women Democratic Front (WDF) at the Islamabad March for the French Tricolour after which the organisers issued a clarification.
After protests in the capital calling for registration of FIRs against organisers and participants of the Aurat March, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri had said that "controversial material" shared on social media concerning the march was being investigated.
Late in March, two local courts in Peshawar and Karachi ordered the registration of first information reports against Aurat March organisers.