Participants of Aurat March, religious parties come face to face
The participants of Aurat Azadi March and activists of hardliner religious parties came face to face on Sunday after the latter started pelting stones on the former, compelling the left-wing rights activists to take the march to the D-Chowk with full-throated chant of ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’ or ‘my body, my choice’.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, various religious parties and organizations, including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Tehreek-e-Minaj-ul-Quran and students of Jamia Hafsa and LaL Masjid had also given calls separately to hold “Haya March” parallel to the women rights activists at the same venue out side the National Press Club.
As was feared, the incident took place out side the National Press Club when the participants of the Aurat March were about to start its March and the activists of JUI-F who were also rallying at the other side of road, were about to end its rally started pelting stones at the participants of Aurat March. Police, however, intervened quickly and took the situation in its control, paving the way for the Aurat March to lead the rally towards D-Chowk, chanting ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi or my body, my choice’.
“This was not only an attack by the right wing hardliners, but also by the State. We were promised that the NOC [no objection certificate] will only be issued to us. But instead they [administration] also issued the NOCs to a number of religious groups,” said Ismat Shahjahan, president of Women Democratic Front, from over the stage set an vehicle to lead the marchers.
Holding placards, raising slogans and singing feminist songs, the women gathered outside the National Press Club, Islamabad and before marching to D-Chowk demanding rights to health and education, political representation and social inclusion, and economic justice and safe access to public spaces. They represented a cross section of society – from political workers to students to human rights activists – and used the occasion to raise their collective voice against all forms of patriarchal, capitalist and imperialist oppression.
Talking to Business Recorder, renowned nuclear physicist and activist Pervez Hoodbhoy, who was also among the participants, stated that it was a good beginning that the downtrodden, especially the women are demanding their due rights. “On one side there the progressive force, while on the other side there are those who are found of slavery, let them be happy with the slavery,” he said, while referring to the rally being staged by the religious parties activists, against the Aurat Azadi March.
He asserted that women should be given their due rights and equal status in the society, adding that in the human history, all the developed countries has a history of the women who played an equal role in the development of their respective countries.
The president of WDF, Ismat Shahjahan, while addressing the marchers spoke about the history of women’s struggle in Pakistan, and shed light on the importance of socialist feminism to ensure rights and dignity for all.
“We have an overgrown patriarchy, which is extremist, fanatic and violent,” she said. “Patriarchal and sexual barbarism have spread like an epidemic as a result of which women and little children are raped and killed by their own family members. We are at crossroad of history, where we have to make a choice between socialist-feminist revolution and patriarchal and sexual barbarism.” Ismat Shahjahan demanded that the state declares a woman’s emergency and engages with the feminist movement to search for solutions to these grave challenges.
Women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah represented the Women’s Action Forum and stressed the need for strengthening feminist organization to fight against patriarchal violence and to take back the shrinking space for women and other marginalized groups. “From wars to the murder of women in the name of honor, to the abuse of children, we are seeing the corrosive effects of violent patriarchy which is destroying the fabric of our society,” she said. The only way to counter this, she stressed, is for women and allied groups to come together in full force.
Political worker and former professor, Rashida Saleemi, spoke about the manner in which women are held back in their public and private lives. “As an educator I saw how unequal distribution of domestic labor, and structural and attitudinal biases against female professionals, stopped many talented women from being able to advance in their careers,” she explained. “Every time this happens, it is not just a personal loss for the woman who is not able to realise her dreams and potential, but a loss for our society as a whole.”
Political worker, Nasreen Chaudhry, spoke about the housing crisis in the capital city and its impact on working class women and their families. Because of shortage of secure low-income housing, and the constant threat of evictions, working class families are unable to provide security and continuity of education to their children, she explained. “Not only is affordable housing in Islamabad scarce, it is mostly not regularized and lacks basic amenities. The children grow up in homes which are overcrowded, which lack electricity and water connections, and which can at any time be razed to the ground. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for poor families to gain economic security and provide a good future for their children.”