A reflection on International Women Day in Pakistan

On the International Women’s Day (March 8), women raised their voice for their rights in Pakistan; their visual slogans raised up into programs held into different cities of the country reflected women’s historical marginalisation, discrimination and subjugation at the hands of men rooted into rock-hard but not undefeatable patriarchy. The slogans they raised were not easily digested by the misogynist groups. Those slogans and demands disturbed their sleep, challenged the dominance of their masculinity, and risked their flawed scales (morality) of deciding what is wrong and what is right for women. In response, they photoshopped slogans to dilute and contaminate women’s genuine demands; and continued spewing venom against women on social media. Such a state of mind can be understood from a quote by Bette Davis “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”

However, this is natural. It is a well established historical fact that when any kind of status quo is challenged and established, the morality of the contemporary time is said to be in danger, its beneficiaries feel uneasy; they whisper, they cry, they unite and push back. However, with the passage of the time, the dust settles down and the truth rises up with dignity. What is considered wrong today becomes right for tomorrow. And such a tomorrow has to come for women. What is considered wrong for women today in Pakistan will be considered right tomorrow. Women’s rights will be considered human rights!

The truth is that the change in the lives of women is inevitable. It is beyond man’s power to sustain through patriarchy forever. And patriarchy is getting weakened all over the world. Its creepy colours are fading away. Its forces are turning frailer; its scope is getting squeezed and its overall draconian existence is challenged everywhere in different ways across the world.

Let’s now come to the significant elements of the Aurat Azadi Marches celebrated in different cities of Pakistan on International Women’s Day.

“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women”

What I observed from social media posts and from my personal presence in the Karachi event was that varied forms and contents of slogans inscribed on the placards used in Hyderabad, Karachi and Islamabad reflected different levels of freedom and empowerment of women in these three cities.

The slogans used in Hyderabad were not as uncomfortable for misogynist groups as those used in Karachi and Islamabad. The slogans used in Hyderabad were framed into the broader framework of liberal feminism, demanding equal rights for men and women, no gender-based discrimination and women’s empowerment at all levels. The slogans used in Karachi reflected all three major sheds of feminism: radical, liberal and socialist.

Beyond the feminist framework, various other issues were raised by various groups such as fair wages, equality of pay for labourers , forced marriages of Hindu girls, transgender rights, enforced disappearances, implementation of pro-women laws, peace, access to potable water and education for women, abolition of dowry, role of women against war, and so on.

These events really provided a liberal space where women demanded their rights within their varied ideological frameworks, vented off their patriarchy and masculinity induced anger, raised their day to day issues; where progressive and pro-women men showed solidarity with women and where children asked for a world for them which is free from gender-based discrimination, violence and patriarchal roles.

I strongly wish these events be continued and women in Pakistan continue working for their rights and freedom. Phylicia Rashad has beautifully said that any time women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing. Whether it’s sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens.

Men also must realise that women have the same rights that men have. They are as much human as men are. Without their equal participation, a new world cannot even be dreamed of. If we want to build a new world, we need to provide women with complete human rights. Paul Alice, an American suffragist, feminist, and women’s rights activist rightly said that there will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.

Let’s conclude this article with a quote of Muhammad Ali Jinnah “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women”.

Long live the women’s movement!

The writer holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney

Published in Daily Times, March 18th 2019.

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