By Huma Quraishi
I am glad to see the huge number of posts about Aurat March. It is great to see that men from all schools of thought are engaging in a serious dialogue about the issues and concerns of the other 50% population of their country, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, a patriarchal society. Men from the extreme right are now praising the accomplishments of their womenfolk and acknowledging the place of women in the armed forces, police, security forces, and other totally male-dominated fields.
The immense change I noticed on social media is of many men giving recognition to the achievements of their sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, other women in their families, and even their co-workers. Men from very conservative backgrounds are posting messages about how proud they are of their daughters, men from all segments of society are talking about what the women need and should have and many of them were represented at the March.
Women’s contributions to society, to various professions, and to their homes are being applauded. It is truly heartening to see men acknowledging the challenges that a Pakistani woman faces at home, workplace, and in public space. I think Aurat March has phenomenally succeeded in its purpose, a dialogue has been started, and we all know that the first step to fixing any problem is to identify it.
The issues being raised are not new, of course, problems exist in our society and were discussed on and off but Aurat March has started a movement to engage in a sustained effort to fix these issues and empower women. The Aurat March volunteers work around the year with the women from marginalized groups of Pakistan to help them become financially independent, create awareness about health issues, convince and help them to send their girls to school, educate them about their legal rights, and where to find help if they are stuck in an abusive or violent situation, thus effecting a positive change.
The reason it seems to rub people the wrong way is that for the first time women are standing en masse for their rights. They are asking tough questions and speaking up about taboo topics such as child abuse, rape, difficult working conditions, harassment in public space thus highlighting the uncomfortable realities of our society. It has also forced the men of Pakistan to think about what is it that drives these women to disregard all threats and warnings of dire consequences and come out on the street to have their say about what they want to change, year after year.
Ideological differences should be resolved through dialogue not by twisting facts and putting peoples’ lives at risk. The movement is gathering momentum and spreading across Pakistan. More and more women are coming out each year, some joined by the men of their families. This March truly redefines the feelings most women in our part of the world associate with crowds and offers one place where everyone feels absolutely safe in a crowd. It is a truly inclusive platform and provides a place to engage in dialogue with various groups choosing to challenge restrictions limiting their growth. It is also a place where people are not judged. It welcomes everyone and makes them all feel safe, happy, and valued.
Personally I marched for: Little Zainab whose life was cut short 2 years ago and who would have turned 10 this year; Acid Victims who dared to say no to harassment; Child Abuse Victims of Kasur; For the mother who was gang raped in front of her children; Victims of domestic violence; All the girls who are denied the right to education. In short I march for a safe, equal, and just society.
Asking for human rights for all, for an end to wage gap on the basis of gender, for equal access to health services, right to education for all, coexistence in peace and harmony, respect for all belief systems, and equally safe public space at all times for both men and women, for equal access to job markets in every field, and to leadership in every discipline and at every level are some of the main demands of the Aurat March. I would like to understand which one of these do the men of our country not agree with and why?
The writer is an educationist serving in the higher education sector and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
She can be reached at: email@example.com