Aurat March 2019

Recently the BBC made a program about being a woman in Pakistan. Accompanying the main program is a quick clip with soundbites from some young Pakistani women about how they live their lives here:

In turns hopeful, frustrated, angry, proud, determined, these women describe what they face in Pakistan:

  • “I’m covering my head, not my brain.”
  • “I get to prioritise my goals but I’m called selfish if I want to pursue them.”
  • “No matter what, if you aren’t married, you haven’t achieved anything.”
  • “I can be independent and choose any career I want to work in.”
  • “I don’t have autonomy over my body, or my city.”
  • “I can get a degree but my family restricts me from stepping out into certain places.”
  • “I can cook whatever I want but I can’t wear whatever I want.”
  • “I must have a white skin tone, but the chai I make should be brown.”
  • “Everyone is entitled to have an opinion about my life except me.”

I absolutely love the wry seriousness with which these women speak about their lived experiences in a country that doesn’t give them their due.  They are completely clued up and aware of what society is denying them, and that they deserve more.

Young Pakistani women are the momentum behind some of the most significant changes taking place in our society today. That’s why I’m excited about the second edition of the Aurat March, the Pakistani Women’s March that took place last year for the first time in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to coincide with the women’s marches all over the world on March 8th, 2019. This year, organizers are planning to make the march bigger and better than before: they will march for “economic justice, reproductive justice, right to our city, and environmental justice”. Special focus will be given to the anti-encroachment drive in Karachi, which has been seen by many as anti-poor.

Sheema Kermani, feminist activist, dancer and performance artist, and one of the original members of the Women’s Action Forum, says, “We at ‘Hum Aurtein,’ proudly announce Aurat March 2019. Every year, on International Women’s Day (8th March), we unite women and individuals from gender non-binary groups to celebrate and strive for the spirit of inclusion, dignity, and respect.” (Hum Aurtein, or “We Women”, is a feminist organization that takes its name from Kishwar Naheed’s revolutionary poem “Hum Gunagar Aurtein”, or “We Sinful Women”)

But the efforts aren’t restricted to Karachi or Lahore alone. The Women Democratic Front, a Pakistani leftist feminist women’s collective, is working to dismantle patriarchy and capitalism in Pakistan and will demand a minimum working wage for women as part of the Aurat March 2019. They will celebrate the International Women Workers Day in Hyderabad, Quetta, Islamabad and Mardan, and are going door-to-door, meeting with working women in these cities to mobilize them for the march.

They will also commemorate the Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day in observance of the mass rape of 40 women by Indian armed forces in the adjoining Kashmiri villages of Kunan and Poshpora in 1991.

Pakistani women will join hands with all feminist allies to show their strength in numbers on March 8, to show their righteous anger, and to celebrate their womanhood in furious joy. Everyone is welcome at this inclusive event: gender non-binary, trans, LGBTQI, female identifying folk and men.

Kermani adds, “Our march isn’t funded by any political party, corporation or NGO. We collect money from other citizens to bring the march together. The march celebrates women’s struggles and gives us a platform to all women to show case our issues and struggles.”

The momentum that began from last year’s march is swelling into something even bigger, even more urgent and even more wide-reaching than last year’s march. It is harnessing the energies wakened by MeToo in Pakistan, the ongoing activism for girls’ education, and a growing anger at the lack of inclusion in the Pakistani government and businesses across the country.

Don’t be on the wrong side of history: come out and participate, or at least witness what happens when women decide to act. There is nothing more exciting or powerful than when women get together to agitate for their rights, to make their voices heard, to make the world aware that they want change. And we will make the world listen.


(Islamabad poster by Lubaina Rajbhoy)