THE cancellation of Aurat March Faisalabad is exactly one of those ‘isolated incidents’ which, when viewed collectively, reveal just how deep-seated patriarchy and misogyny are in our country. According to reports, the Aurat March Faisalabad organisers were denied an NOC on Sunday afternoon to hold their event. The official Twitter handle of Aurat March Faisalabad announced that the march had been put off due to concerns related to security and Muharram. However, human rights activists and Aurat March organisers gave a troubling account of events indicating a different reason. There were reports that the Faisalabad assistant commissioner not only denied them permission to hold the march but went so far as to threaten the student organisers with arrests. One organiser revealed that a day before the march was supposed to be held, a banned sectarian outfit held a press conference slating the women’s rights movement. The attitude of the assistant commissioner is extremely problematic, and demonstrates either how intimidated the administration feels when radical elements cause a commotion or the backward mindset that a large number of those running the affairs of the state themselves harbour.

Unfortunately, this is not the first incident where Aurat March organisers have been denied their constitutional right to protest by organs of the state and figures of authority. Last year, a mural painted to express solidarity with the movement was blackened by vandals supposedly in the presence of the Capital Police, while several participants were injured when people pelted stones at them. In 2019, the KP Assembly had passed a resolution against the annual feature, terming it shameful. Meanwhile, March organisers and participants routinely face threats and abuse online and sometimes also by political leaders. As these incidents and every case of rape, ‘honour’ killing, domestic violence and discrimination indicate, women of this country need to wrestle for their rights every step of the way. Far from helping them achieve their agency, the state has contributed to strengthening those who want to snatch away their rights.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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