On the 8th of March, 2018, the women of Pakistan made history. What is celebrated the world over as International Women’s Day became the first iteration of the “Aurat March”. Women from all over the country emerged from their homes and workplaces to take to the streets and demand equal rights.
With behenchara (sisterhood) and yakjehti (unity) as its slogans, the march brought together people from all walks of life. The roads of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad saw an organized, peaceful movement that celebrated womanhood and embraced peace. It was an historic moment in history.
This year, women from Pakistan’s various socio-economic classes have been organizing diligently. Months of outreach, project planning, meetings, tension, and collaboration will culminate on the 8th of this month in the second Aurat March—an even bigger event than last year’s.
Lahore’s version will begin from the Press Club and end at Alhamra, flooding the city’s streets with the voices that usually go unheard. That being said, the Aurat March does not claim to be a movement in and of itself. It is, rather, one cog in the collective struggle of women all over the globe.
What is most special about this march is that its agenda is extremely inclusive. The manifesto, crafted over hours of work by dedicated individuals, reads: “The use of the word ‘Aurat’ is not to exclude our trans sisters, gender non-conforming individuals or the larger queer community”. The march is intersectional: it hopes to include the differently abled, the trans, the queer, religious minorities, and those on the economic margins of society. A statement by the march of last year enunciates the agenda well:
“The agenda of this march was … to recognise that women’s liberation is inherently linked with the liberation of all oppressed groups and minorities.”
The demands of the Aurat March include an end to violence against women, labour rights, reproductive rights, environmental justice, anti-sexual assault laws, wage equality, fair political representation and opportunities, education equality, and equality for the transgender community. It asks for an end to policies of mass destruction and militarism, police brutality, laws that inure religious minorities, and child marriages and honour killings.
A group of dedicated women have organized the march, working diligently to make the march a success. Last year and this, the march takes inspiration from a collective called Hum Auratain that “stands against patriarchal structures”. At its core, the march is anti-capitalist, with the very first lines of the manifesto stating its core principles: no NGO funding, no corporate funding, and no political party alliances. The purpose of the Aurat March is not to stir feelings of antipathy towards those in power or to ignite a violent struggle. Rather, the aim is to bring together all those who believe in the liberation—personal, educational, economic, professional, or sexual—of the marginalized factions of society. Ever since the dawn of the #MeToo movement, women have come up with innovative ways to subvert traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, patriarchal structures, and oppressive systems. The march will become one more worthy addition to the plethora of resistance that women continue to show to the patriarchy. The march is proof that patriarchy will not last forever.
The Aurat March welcomes all those who feel that they must raise a voice against oppression. All women are welcome, as are men. People who want to introduce their children to activism are welcome. Performers are welcome to display their art as a means of resistance to the status quo. All may come, as long as they believe in freedom from oppression.
So why should women go to the Aurat March? Because it is about them.
And why should men, trans people, minorities, or anyone else? Because it is about them, too.
Join in to make your voice heard at the Lahore Press Club at 3:00 pm on the 8th of March.
The writer is an English major and aspiring poet.