by Mariam AzeemAugust 04, 2020
Women’s rights have been on the social agenda in Pakistan for years, but the media largely ignored it until recently. Journalists have become more independent over the past few years, coinciding with the emergence of the Women’s March in the United States and around the world. These marches inspired Pakistani women to finally take action for their rights.
Pakistan’s Aurat March (“aurat” means “women” in Urdu) saw its debut on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018. A group of young progressive feminists initiated the march, initially receiving endorsement from the Awami Workers’ Party, the Lady Health Workers Association, and multiple women's rights organizations.
The march called for more accountability for violence against women and support for women who experience violence and harassment at the hands of security forces, in public spaces, at home, and in the workplace. Marchers also demanded economic justice, labor rights for women, recognition for women’s work in the care economy as meriting pay, maternity leave and daycare centers to ensure women's inclusion in the workforce.
The first enduring march of its kind in Pakistan—marchers came out again in 2019 and 2020 on the same occasion—the Aurat March miraculously emerged amid a long history of resistance to feminism in the country. The broader feminist movement in Pakistan has also learned many lessons from strong resistance to and criticism of the march. Notably, it has strived for more inclusivity; this year’s march drew not only upper-class participants but also underprivileged classes, women from urban and rural areas, men, and trans individuals.
The Aurat March has a non-hierarchical leadership and a presence throughout the country. Although the annual march is their signature tactic, the movement engages in other actions as well. Activists have written a manifesto to articulate their demands (mentioned above) to the government and Pakistani society, and this year a manifesto dissemination plan is rolling out to build alliances.
Art and performance are also used to amplify women’s voices. For example, activists in South Punjab have put on theater performances about women’s issues, and women share poems, speeches, and songs about feminism across Pakistan.
Media strategy is centered on protecting the movement’s image as respectful of Pakistani culture and traditions, as well as on controlling the message that women simply wish to have equal rights—not to adopt s