Hostility to Aurat March

Published February 19, 2022

IT is that time of year once again when defenders of the patriarchy spring into action with spurious arguments to protect the status quo. This time, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri is leading the charge.

He has written to Prime Minister Imran Khan to ask him to ban Aurat March on International Women’s Day — March 8 — and declare it as International Hijab Day, claiming that the women’s rally held annually to mark the UN-designated occasion contravenes religious principles. Interestingly, the minister in his letter dated Feb 9 acknowledges the importance of International Women’s Day in raising awareness of women’s rights, but then proceeds to decry as un-Islamic the banners and slogans that often feature at the Aurat March.

This is not only a specious assertion, but a dangerous one in a country already dangerous for women — where a man who murdered his celebrity sister walked free recently, one among many other ‘honour killers’ who will never see the inside of a prison long enough to pay for their crime. Here there are laws aplenty to protect women, from sexual harassment, domestic violence etc, but regressive social mores and an apathetic legal system remain major obstacles to implementing them. Millions of girls are condemned to a lower quality of life, simply on account of being born female.

According to the latest Gender Parity Index, in which we regularly feature near the bottom, at the current rate it will take 136 years to close the gender gap in Pakistan. And yet, every year without fail, conservative segments balk at the prospect of peaceful rallies of women demanding their rights as enshrined in the Constitution. The opportunistic co-opting by the minister of the hijab row in India simply underscores the illogic of his position. Aurat March advocates women’s agency — to pursue a career, to select a life partner, or indeed, to wear the hijab or not. Participants at the annual event, carrying their diverse slogans, illustrate precisely this inclusive, non-judgemental stance.

Read: The march of disinformation

The government is led by a party which used to take pride in its vocal female support base, one that regularly showed up at its months-long dharna in 2014. The PTI should rein in the retrogressive voices within its ranks and express support for the Aurat March. Yesterday, the president of JUI-F’s Islamabad chapter openly threatened physical violence to disrupt the march. Clearly, misogynistic elements such as these will stop at nothing.

Last year, the lives of march organisers and participants were put at risk by a particularly vicious disinformation campaign. The government is responsible for the protection of all those engaging in their democratic right to protest on March 8. Unlike other recent protests that were met with kid glove treatment by the state, at least the Aurat March will not be the cause of death and mayhem on the streets.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Shared goals
Updated 16 Aug, 2022

Shared goals

It is high time that all parties realise that negotiation on the economy does not need to be held hostage to political rivalries.
Making amends?
16 Aug, 2022

Making amends?

WHERE relations with the US are concerned, there has been a distinct shift in Imran Khan’s tone. While the PTI...
Hazardous celebration
16 Aug, 2022

Hazardous celebration

CAN celebratory actions that often result in death or lifelong injuries really be described as such? Be it Eid, New...
Taliban anniversary
15 Aug, 2022

Taliban anniversary

A YEAR ago on this day, the Afghan Taliban rolled into Kabul as the Western-backed government fell like a house of...
Extreme measures
Updated 15 Aug, 2022

Extreme measures

Government has overreacted to a degree that has given ammunition to the PTI to accuse it of ‘fascism’.
A depraved society
15 Aug, 2022

A depraved society

IF the extent of sexual violence against women and children is any measure of a society’s moral degradation, then ...