Aurat March in Karachi focuses on minorities plight, issue of forced conversions

Published March 9, 2024
ISLAMABAD: Participants of the Aurat March, held to mark International Women’s Day, try to remove barbed wire from the road outside the National Press Club in an attempt to march towards D-Chowk, amid heavy police presence, on Friday.—AFP
ISLAMABAD: Participants of the Aurat March, held to mark International Women’s Day, try to remove barbed wire from the road outside the National Press Club in an attempt to march towards D-Chowk, amid heavy police presence, on Friday.—AFP

KARACHI: Holding placards and dressed up in different colourful attires, a large number of women with brightened-up smiles stood tall against ‘injustices’ at Frere Hall for the seventh ‘Aurat Ehtejaji Mela aur March’ organised by Hum Aurtein here on Friday.

Just like every year, there were a lot of stories to share by the participants.

The event started with a fun dance class conducted by classical dancer Sheema Kermani. It was called ‘Dance as Resistance’ and women from all different groups joined in happily.

“This is a beautiful event we put together every year. I am happy to be a part of it and I hope to keep the resistance intact,” Ms Kermani said.

Among the many poignant moments, a particularly moving scene was the ‘Pidar-i-shahi ka qabirstan’ [graveyard of patriarchy], featuring dummy corpses with brief narratives. For instance, one ‘tombstone’ read ‘Killed by suicide at 33, raped by husband for three years’.

Colourful attires, serious discussions dominate day-long activities on International Women’s Day

Carrying the legacy, there were a lot of placards by participants and the organisers themselves.

One placard had the words ‘I will be a proud Jorru ka Ghulam’ [I will be my wife’s slave proudly], the other one read ‘Bhai qatal karay, baap maaf karay’ [brother murders, father forgives] which was in the context of claimed honour killing of social media influencer Qandeel Baloch.

Another one read ‘Jab aqal bant rahi thi toh ap kahan thay? Halwa kha rahe thay’ which was pointing towards the Lahore incident where a woman was accused of blasphemy for wearing a shirt that had Halwa written over it in an Arabic font.

This year, the organisers of the march opted for a new approach. Instead of speeches, there were sessions held.

The venue was divided into three tents. The main stage focused on discussions about minority rights, particularly addressing issues like forced conversions and the survivors of the Jaranwala Church attack. In the Churail tent, discussions revolved around the economic rights of women concerning hunger and food security.

Meanwhile, in the Behn chara tent, participants in a session delved into effects of transphobia and cissexism in daily lives.

Pastor Ghazala moderated the discussion on forced conversions and the Jaranwala incident. Victims, all under 15, narrated their harrowing experiences of abduction and being coerced into adopting an unfamiliar religion.

 (CLOCKWISE from top right) Participants in Aurat Ehtejaji Mela and March perform at the stage set up in Frere Hall; a woman holds a placard; a large number of women take part in Mehnatkash Aurat Rally; and, Jamaat-i-Islami activists stage a demonstration in support of people of Gaza, to mark International Women’s Day in Karachi on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi / Shakil Adil / White Star / Online
(CLOCKWISE from top right) Participants in Aurat Ehtejaji Mela and March perform at the stage set up in Frere Hall; a woman holds a placard; a large number of women take part in Mehnatkash Aurat Rally; and, Jamaat-i-Islami activists stage a demonstration in support of people of Gaza, to mark International Women’s Day in Karachi on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi / Shakil Adil / White Star / Online

“Now that I am speaking to all of you, I want to ask, why is it always an underage female kid who wants to accept Islam? Why is it never a man? How is it always a girl rebelling against her family to marry a man who’s nowhere close to her age and then happily spends the rest of her life without the ones who love her?” Ms Ghazala asked the audience.

In the same session, one of the victims of the traumatic burning of churches at Jaranwala was also present, who happened to be a petitioner in the Supreme Court as well. The family chose to not reveal their identities.

“We were homeless for three months. My daughter witnessed the entire incident herself, and she was traumatised to an extent that she could not sleep for nights. Everything burnt away in the blink of an eye,” the female survivor of the family narrated amid tears.

Sammi Deen Baloch, a notable Baloch leader who protested against forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan was also present at the occasion.

Shehzadi Rai, a transgender activist and Sorath Lohar who has been raising her voice actively against forced disappearances of Sindhis were also there.

While serious discussions were under way, women enjoyed themselves in vibrant outfits, including sarees, kurtis, and western wear, dancing freely.

The transgender community added to the lively atmosphere, wandering around, making TikToks, and singing joyfully. Everywhere, there was a beautiful display of colours and smiles.

Chanting slogans, the Aurat March participants then moved out of the Frere Hall to march on the Teen Talwar.

Mehnatkash Aurat Rally

A large number of women from all walks of life staged as ‘Mehnatkash Aurat Rally’ to mark International Women’s Day.

Organised by the Home-Based Women Workers Federation Pakistan (HBWWF), the rally began from the Karachi Press Club Chowk (Fawara Chowk) and concluded at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi.

On this occasion, ‘Nach Natak Mandli’ presented revolutionary songs, banners, and cultural dances in appreciation of the efforts of women in their struggle.

JI walk in solidarity with Palestinian women

Additionally, around the city, feminine energy was nurtured through multiple events.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) organised a walk in solidarity with Palestine on account of International Women’s Day.

The participants held placards in support of helpless children and women of Gaza who were subjected to brutal bombing by Israel.

Hafiz Naeemur Rehman, the JI leader, said International Women’s Day signified the need to highlight injustices women were facing worldwide and even in those countries where they were being provided with facilities.

Math games crafted by female educators

The Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) wrapped up its week-long celebrations of the International Day of Mathematics (IDM) 2024 on March 8.

Inspired by the theme ‘Playing with Math’, the ‘Grand Showcase’ highlighted math games crafted by female educators from Karachi.

The AKU-IED hosted various events during the week, including workshops for both educators and students, promoting the joy of learning mathematics.

KU seminar on Women’s Day

Moreover, the department of political science at the University of Karachi organised a conference on Thursday to observe Women’s Day.

The conference titled ‘Constitutional and political rights of women,’ featured discussions with Sidra Dar from Voice of America, Muneeza Kakar, lawyer and human rights activist, and Basir Zaidi, chairperson of Karachi Residency Foundation.

They shared their experiences and insights into navigating male-dominated environments in their respective fields.

Women’s Day event at IBA

The IBA’s Center for Entrepreneurial Development (IBA CED) organised an event — Women Empowerment Through discovHER Finance Opportunities — and showcased opportunities for women to be financially empowered within Pakistan’s economic landscape.

Joint Director of the State Bank of Pakistan Uzma Mansoor spoke about the financial challenges faced by women and commended efforts by financial institutions and banks to help them.

IBA Executive Director Dr S Akbar Zaidi and IBA CED Director Dr Lalarukh Ejaz also spoke.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2024

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