Aurat March held across Pakistan on International Women’s Day

Aurat March held across Pakistan on International Women’s Day
Participants of Aurat March 2020 — a series of protests on International Women's Day held in cities across Pakistan, display their placards and posters on March 8, 2020. (AN photos)
Updated 08 March 2020
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Aurat March held across Pakistan on International Women’s Day

Aurat March held across Pakistan on International Women’s Day
  • Nationwide protests took place in specified areas with a heavy police presence
  • Among other politicians, PM Khan and President Alvi sent messages of solidarity for Women’s Day

ISLAMABAD: The third Aurat March to mark International Women’s Day in Pakistan kicked off nationwide on Sunday afternoon in the cities of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad and Quetta among others, amid some reports of clashes with counter protesters.
Fighting intense backlash and legal petitions in the week leading up to the march, demonstrators this year gathered from all cross sections of society and are women, men, children and transgender persons. The march manifesto’s primary demand this year is economic justice.
With a heavy police presence, specified areas i n every city turned into a colorful sea of placards and posters. Hundreds of people in different cities came out in support of the movement, chanting slogans that demanded more freedom for women and marginalized communities, including laborers, farmers and brick kiln workers.
“This is the beginning of a women’s movement in Pakistan and I think no political party or institution can now ignore this,” prominent rights activist Ammar Jan told Arab News at the Lahore demonstration. 
“This movement is here to stay and to play a vital role in Pakistani society and politics,” he said.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, where most women continue to observe customary seclusion and scarcely venture out without men, a small number of activists managed to gather even without the district administration’s permission for the event.
“Women in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the newly merged districts are confined to the boundary walls of their homes, which speaks volumes about injustice,” social activist Nadia Khan told Arab News at the Peshawar demonstration. 
“They should be allowed to go to markets, attend schools and go to hospitals. Instead, all these are considered a stigma on the family name,” she continued.
“We are fighting for these rights, nothing more.”
In Karachi, men too came out in large numbers in support of the women’s day march at the city’s iconic Frere Hall, where performances and speeches were in full swing by the late afternoon.
“Today’s Aurat March is a much bigger, more exciting, dynamic and inclusive event. We have a wonderful mix of people standing here to demand their rights, saying we want a more inclusive and just society, where there is equality for everyone, no matter their gender or their faith,” Sheema Kirmani, a social activist and artist, told Arab News during the Karachi demonstration.
In Islamabad, police in riot gear lined the street separating the women’s march demonstrators and a separate group of protesters-- female members of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) who held their march outside the National Press Club. 
Clashes with members of a Jamia Hafsa counter protest-- who had also gathered in the same place-- erupted when demonstrators began throwing stones at the Aurat March participants, injuring at least one member of the women’s day march according to local media. The situation was soon controlled by police.
Earlier, Ismat Shahjahan, lead organizer of the Aurat March addressed the demonstrators in Islamabad and congratulated them on a successful event for a more inclusive Pakistan.
The days leading up to women’s day saw the organizers and participants of the march receive violent threats online from religious groups and other individuals, including legal petitions filed by some to stop the protests from going ahead. All such petitions were dismissed by the courts. 
In 2019, the Aurat March faced intense opposition in the conservative, Muslim majority country of 210 million people when photos from the demonstration 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.
Various politicians also shared messages of solidarity for international women’s day, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi.
“I firmly believe that inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development can only be ensured by providing equal opportunities and a conducive environment to our women,” Khan said in a statement on Sunday.
“I reaffirm my pledge on this day to take all measures that would help our women to lead a safe, secure and prosperous life,” he said.
In a Twitter post, President Alvi said Pakistan must ensure equal opportunities in education, health and jobs for its women, including ensuring inheritance and safety in all spaces.