Slogans, expressions and visuals of Aurat March discussed

Published April 4, 2022
Participants view the Aurat March posters that have had an impact.—Photo by writer
Participants view the Aurat March posters that have had an impact.—Photo by writer

KARACHI: The research, resource and publication centre on women and media Uks held its seventh Dialogue for Change on the topic of ‘Understanding Slogans, Expressions and Visuals: Aurat March and Beyond’ here on Saturday.

The director of Uks explained that when she founded Uks single-handedly 25 years ago, she used to carefully go through all newspapers, Urdu as well as English.

“I was monitoring the media and archiving news and other content in which news and stories about women were presented in the most insensitive and derogatory ways. And then I used to take bundles of such news, including vulgar pictures and news headlines to editors, who would be in denial at first but then after seeing what they had themselves been publishing they would realise their mistake,” she said.

Shahrezad Samiuddin, a consultant for Uks, said even though the media has evolved and changed, the problem still remains, and it remains with not just two genders also. “Therefore, we are also at it, collecting the same kind of material and worse which was coming out in the media all those years ago,” she said.

“That’s also how this Dialogue for Change was started by Uks. We want to create space, for diverse voices to be heard, to debate and talk about how to dismantle the issues,” she added.

The hate and patriarchy experienced during and after the very first Aurat March, held on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018, has continued to grow. You get to see the same samples of news and columns about the Aurat March with horrible names such as ‘Be Haya’, ‘Ikhlaq Bakhta’, ‘Fahasha’ and more in newspapers, especially the Urdu publications.

But many of the slogans, expressions and visions that have come out of the Aurat March have also proved to be very powerful, forcing people to take notice and talk about certain issues such as women sitting properly like men when riding a motorbike. How boys are never told to sit properly but girls are supposed seen as indecent if they sit like the boys or men. The posters coming out at the various editions of the Aurat March reflect age-old anger, frustration, depression. They are indigenous issues that have been brought up.

Another much-talked-about banner from the Aurat March is Mera Jism Meri Marzi, said to have broken records of indecency.

Soha Tanwir Khan, a young participant at the Dialogue for Change, said that she was recently at the University of Karachi to discuss labour rights but she confronted angry male students there who started talking about the slogans of Aurat March. “Whatever we do, our entire existence will be sexualised,” she said.

Social activist Sheema Kermani said that it seemed like all men were afraid of free women. Is all about power, which they don’t want women to have. ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ is also misread by them as women wanting to sleep with anyone they prefer whenever they like,” she said.

Journalist Lubna Jerar said that unfortunately, most people who talk about the Aurat March cannot go beyond the word ‘Jism’.

It was added by the Uks director here women’s bodies are also robbed from their graves and raped. She pointed out, the more problematic word is ‘marzi (consent)’, and not ‘jism’ here.

Arusha Noorani, another young participant, said that actually sexuality is empowering, and so it is problematic. “People want to take away from you all the time. They even ask why we celebrate Women’s Day. And so we also wear our sexuality apologetically,” she observed.

Social activist Uzma Noorani shared an example of a woman, the wife of a well-known social activist who himself runs an NGO, who was a chief guest at a girls’ school recently and who spoke against the Aurat March there.

“She said that the women who come out at the Aurat March are not to be identified with since they are very strange and different persons whom her daughters needed to stay away from. But then I countered her talk by asking the girl students there if any of them had ever been harassed? None of them could say that they had never been harassed or ogled. It settled the debate,” she said.

Journalist Afia Salam pointed to the inclusivity of the Aurat March and how wonderful it is to have all people joining in to talk about their issues and not just women speaking about their problems. “It is a common ground with so much openness. Some come for their rights, some for their salaries and other things. And it is this openness that is propelling the Aurat March forward,” she said.

Sheema Kermani said that the Aurat March includes all marginalised people and communities. It is a movement that is moving towards political directions. This was the vision, to move issues into the mainstream. It is a big dialogue that opened up.

Analyst, writer and researcher Themrise Khan said that Aurat March is still starting out therefore it will take time before turning into a movement. “We also need to talk amongst us as we women also have different perspectives on things,” she said.

Senior journalist and human rights defender Zohra Yusuf said that political outcome is a lengthy and slow process but they are moving in the right direction.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2022

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