Mera jism meri marzi

Following on from my post about Aurat March 2020, it might be helpful to talk about the slogan “Mera jism meri marzi” (My body, my choice).

This slogan was first used in its original English by women who advocate for reproductive rights and autonomy over their bodies. That is, the right to decide whether or not they will carry a pregnancy, not leaving this decision to others — individual men or the state.

The organizers of the Aurat March in Pakistan translated this slogan into Urdu and it became Mera Jism Meri Marzi.

Immediately, men, mullahs, misogynists seized upon this slogan and twisted it beyond any logic. Pontificating on what Mera Jism Meri Marzi means, I have heard these responses to the slogan coming from men and boys:

  • You want to have sex with your father
  • You want to walk naked down the street
  • You want to be a prostitute
  • You want to have sex with anyone you want

What a low opinion Pakistani men must have of Pakistani women if this is what’s going through their minds! No wonder they feel they must control every action, police every movement, otherwise Pakistani women would break free and run around uncontrollably, destroying what’s left of society.

What’s especially sad is how men and boys say, “Fine, if you want mera jism meri marzi, tau phir I have the right to rape you. My body, my choice.”

Alhamdullillah! Brain stunting is a real phenomenon in Pakistan, but its real cause is not malnutrition, it’s patriarchy.

The real meaning of Mera Jism Meri Marzi boils down to a single word: consent. Giving permission for something to happen. The women who talk about this slogan are referring to women having control over their own bodies. Not being pushed or forced into:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Rape
  • Forced marriage
  • Sexual trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Pregnancy
  • Abortion

And so much more. In Pakistan, the understanding of consent has been limited to a silent bride at her own wedding, while men speak for her, agree to her marriage, and sign away her rights on a piece of paper. The women of Pakistan deserve so much more than this. Islam promises Muslim women consent over every aspect of their lives, but we in Pakistan like to only listen to Islam when it promises men four wives, unlimited concubines, and 72 hoors in Heaven. When it comes to women and their rights, we suddenly develop amnesia.

It is always a woman’s decision to get married, to have sexual intercourse, to have a baby or not, to allow a man to touch her. It is also always a woman’s decision to get an education, leave the house, come back to the house, take care of her children, go to work, not work. Somehow, in our deeply controlling and misogynistic society, we have decided women are to have no control over any of these things: she is little better than a child whose life must be ordered and decided by her husband, father, in-laws, older brothers, uncles, grandfathers. If a woman is to do anything her heart desires, it is only because she has been given “permission” to do so by the men in her life, the guardians of Islam, and the state.

Mera Jism Meri Marzi may not be the most subtle of slogans. It may not even translate very well to Pakistani culture and society. But it is direct and honest. A woman has the right to decide, to have autonomy over her life and her body. A man does not have the right to tell her what to do. A man does not represent Islam, God, or the angels: he is a man, with rights and responsibilities, but those rights and responsibilities do not extend to every woman in society, only the ones he is bound to through marriage and blood ties.