On Sunday 8th March, thousands rallied for the subversive Aurat March (Women’s March) in cities across Pakistan. Many men and women were seething with anger, calling the movement anti-religion and anti-state. A resultant petition calling for its ban was filed in Lahore High Court and ultimately dismissed by Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh as ‘unconstitutional’.
The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020 ranks Pakistan a dismal 151 out of 153 countries, on human rights for women. Period poverty, gender based violence such as acid attacks, forced marriages, rapes, femicide, child abduction; rooted in a problematic notion of familial ‘honour’, name just a few of the challenges faced by women in Pakistan.
Aurat March ‘wokeism’ was serious catnip for Instagram likes. The same women protesting for higher female education rates and economic opportunities go home after scouring markets and ladies lunches, to be served tea and massaged by girls plucked from villages as live-in maids. This particular strain of third wave feminism could lack the crucial element of intersectionality; ‘women are living in cocoons and bubbles…M M Alam Road, DHA, Bahria Town…influenced by (dreaming of) Dubai/Abu Dhabi…not interested in the lower class at all’ (Nighat Said Khan).
Pakistani women and men must focus on the gender inequity borne of a classist and patriarchal system in which the upper class leeches off working class women, before they are colonised by white saviours disguised as selfless NGOs, unaware of the cultural and religious sensitivities of the country. The Eurocentric mindset that women must be freed from Islam to achieve freedom dismisses the rights granted to women in Islam such as property rights and financial agency.
However, these rights were not afforded by Zainab Ansari, Farishta Ghulam and Qandeel Baloch. Although arguably flawed, Aurat March is undeniably a valiant effort to restore justice. And that, we salute.