ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Aurat March-- Urdu for Women’s March-- which is set to hit streets across the country on Sunday in tandem with international women’s day, will include men and women from the country’s poor and marginalized communities including laborers, farmers, and slum-dwellers, organizers of the movement said on Saturday.
The march faced intense backlash and opposition in the conservative, Muslim majority country of 210 million people when photos from last year’s march depicting women holding placards and demanding rights and freedoms went viral on social media and made international news. Critics of the movement declared the march and its slogans were culturally and religiously insensitive, with many saying the participants were representative solely of the country’s elite.
This year, however, in the face of threats and legal petitions, the organizers are putting additional emphasis on their efforts to mobilize people from Pakistan’s marginalized, rural and fringe communities. The key demand in the Aurat March manifesto this year, is economic justice.
“People from the kaachi abadi (slums), lawyers, nurses, students — they are all at the forefront of our cause,” Maria Malik, a march organizer in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, told Arab News.
“These are the segments and the voices we have coming and representing our struggles tomorrow,” she said.
In southern Punjab, organizers in the city of Multan are gearing up for a huge and diverse turnout on Sunday. This is Multan’s first women’s march, with mobilization efforts especially extended to the city’s brick kiln laborers-- both men and women who make up some of the poorest communities in the region.
“Our attendees are not all coming from a strong economic background,” Laiba Zainab, an Aurat March organizer in Multan told Arab News, and added they had implored different communities to come out on Sunday to demand “a more accessible Pakistan.”
In Lahore, the official poster of the march designed by activist and artist Shehzil Malik depicts farming women, whose voices the Lahore chapter says it is hoping to amplify.
“We blame the media last year and even now for putting so much focus on only certain attendees and their posters,” human and cyber rights lawyer Nighat Dad and an organizer of the Aurat March told Arab News. “They all completely ignored a large number of people from marginalized communities.”
A number of failed petitions were launched in the last week to stop the march from happening, with violent threats made to participants, as well as counter-protests planned.
Groups openly threatening the march include JUI-F, Tehreek-e-Taliban, Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Jamia Hafsa, Deobandi group, and Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The banned group, SSP, took responsibility for defacing a large mural by organizers of the march in Islamabad, as videos of the mob vandalizing the painting depicting two women went viral on Wednesday.
“The threats have been coming since last year’s march,” Dad told Arab News.
In the face of intense opposition, many politicians in Pakistan are defending the right to peaceful protest, including Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry of the ruling PTI and Sherry Rehman of Pakistan’s People’s Party.
Notable names expected to attend the marches include women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai in Multan, transgender activist Nayab Ali and Sherry Rehman in Islamabad.