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Illustration by Oscar Bray

Resisting Persistently: Reflecting on the Relevance of Aurat March in Pakistan

Aurat March is a space for radical empathy and solidarity in Pakistan. In the days leading to the sixth iteration of the Aurat March, our writers reflect on the past and future of the movement.

Held annually on Mar. 8, International Women’s Day is fast approaching. Since 2018, it has been a momentous day for women and other gender minorities in Pakistan. A day for radical empathy and solidarity when women gather in nine major cities of the country, reclaim the public spaces, and stomp on the face of patriarchy, collectively.
I [Abdullah] remember my first Aurat March on Mar. 8, 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the world. Personally, it was an important moment in my household, as my sister and I argued with our father to let us go to the march. In Lahore, the March starts at the Press Club, which has historical significance in that it has been the epicenter of many movements against censorship in Pakistan. The protesters walk for two hours among performances and fiery speeches from the organizing team and finally reach the Al-Hamra Arts Council, another momentous venue being the cultural hub of everything from theater to literature.
For me, [Manahil] it is as vivid as if it was yesterday. We marched through the streets that border Frere Hall in Karachi — a colonial monument that has ironically been the center for many social justice movements — and chanted at the top of our lungs: Azadi, Azadi! Azadi, Azadi, (freedom) sung it against the beat of the tabla. Like an anthem, we channeled our rage against the patriarchy and wore it like armor. It was liberating to occupy public spaces that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to, at my own whims, to demand what is ours.
The past four to five years have witnessed atrocious events highlighting how difficult it is to be a woman in Pakistan, especially if you are not from a privileged social class. The notorious motorway incident of Sep. 2020 comes to mind. Although this incident made it to all the headlines and was talked about for several news cycles, many others still go unreported because media outlets do not wish to broadcast the harsh realities that the gendered minorities in Pakistan face.
Even when investigations do open up to get to the bottom of such events, the public discourse is horrifying to read about or listen to, essentially being moral policing and victim-blaming statements that dictate how women should lead their lives.
A popular slogan of the Aurat March that has garnered a lot of traction is “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” (My Body, My Choice). This slogan reads as a mere demand for women to be granted bodily autonomy, to have the agency to say no and make their own decisions. It also encompasses a wide array of problems in Pakistani society: divorce and how it is seen as a ‘taboo’, marital rape cases, reproductive justice, and harassment. It is not just institutional patriarchy, in the case of law enforcement and judicial institutions, but also the public court that makes it hard for women to report or even talk about these problems without being blamed.
Despite the incessant obstacles that the government, local authorities, and law enforcement agencies have presented in the progress of the Aurat March, the organizers have persisted. A recent example is the denial of Aurat March’s request for a NOC in Lahore, citing the religious opposition against it as the reason for denial. However, the organizing team has communicated that the march will continue as scheduled on Mar. 8 this week. Following last year’s demands of the Lahore branch, which advocated for long-term judicial reforms to solve problems of patriarchal violence, this year's demands include providing social security to gender minorities because of the economic violence they are subjected to.
Aurat March is spearheading the tide of third wave feminism in Pakistan — it is intersectional and challenges pervasive censorship and erasure. Issues of displacement, forced disappearances, military violence, climate apartheid, and unsustainable development are a crucial part of Aurat March’s manifesto. These issues almost never make it to mainstream media — which reflects on the importance of movements like Aurat March that not only provide a platform for indigenous activists and communities to further echo their concerns, but also bring the much needed nuance.
This year’s March in both Lahore and Karachi is premised around feminist climate justice. With Pakistan being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, it is absolutely imperative to cast a critical gaze at how patriarchy and the effects of climate disaster(s) intersect and Aurat March 2022 is raising the much needed questions. Women are not only likely to experience more gender based violence during climate emergencies but are also often excluded from decision making processes.
I [Manahil] remember the 2021 March in the vicinity of Frere hall, Karachi, where a representative of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum spoke against the illegal occupation of Karachi’s islands and refused to accept environmental degradation as a collateral for development. Sami Baloch — daughter of Dr Deen Mohammed Baloch who was abducted in 2009 — has been protesting since 2009 but has never had space on mainstream media. She spoke about her struggles and asked the state for answers and demanded accountability. For a movement like Aurat March, that makes rounds on both social and electronic media every year, it is imperative to focus on issues and activists whose voices are otherwise suppressed by the barriers of censorship.
Despite incessant opposition, the forging of their slogans to label them as “blasphemous”, and opposition from groups such as the JUI-F (Jamat-e-Ulema Islam - Functional), JI (Jamaat-e-Islami), or TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan), women still continue to come out on streets every year to reclaim what is theirs, challenge power structures, and express solidarity and support.
Abdullah Yusuf is Staff Writer and Manahil Faisal is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email them at
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