Here’s How Pakistani Women Are Reclaiming Their Power in the ‘Aurat March’

On March 8th, some of us were celebrating International Women’s Day by watching Captain Marvel. In Pakistan, a nationwide “Aurat March” was held as a direct equivalent to the well-known “Women’s March.”

Women and men from across Pakistan came together to protest against gender discrimination. I was intrigued as to why the word “Aurat” was used rather than “women”. You see, “Aurat” originally has connotations of vulnerability and is sometimes used as a word to refer to one’s wife, but it seems that South Asian women are now reclaiming it as their own. Amazingly, this march symbolised a distinction from Western feminism, which is often (but not always) associated with white feminism. The “Aurat March” succeeded in uniting women and men of all backgrounds on issues faced by those from all walks of life, showing that South Asian women are truly leading the fight for equity.  

It is without a doubt that the “Aurat March” planted the grassroots for Pakistan’s feminism movement to come. I know this because of the response of the media, certain men, and politicians. The uproar that this march caused proves that certain men will do anything to silence strong, powerful women of colour from speaking out and making a difference.

Aamir Liaqat, a Pakistani game show host and all-around dubious person, condescendingly requested that Prime Minister Imran Khan investigate why women were marching on the streets — clearly he is one of many who struggle to sympathise with the life-altering struggles faced by women. Unsurprisingly, some men decided to call women vulgar and obscene for carrying signs which proclaimed their desire to the right to access free menstrual products, and end rape.  

Remind me again where the Quran says it’s haram to defeat patriarchy?

And if you think that’s not enough, mansplaining, social media trolls took it upon themselves to come out of the woodwork and criticize the “Aurat March” as un-Islamic. Remind me again where the Quran says it’s haram to defeat patriarchy?

I truly believe the issue here is the mixing of culture and religion together. Islamically, women are equal to men, so whenever there was a rule commanded for women, there was also a rule commanded for men. Culturally and historically, Pakistan has not generally been a very intersectional or feminism-friendly place to live if you wanted to advocate for the abolition of gender roles. Cultural norms tend to be manipulated to reflect Islamic rule, often shaming women into getting married young. 

Within days of the march, multiple women reported receiving rape and death threats, both online and face-to-face. What is it about men who are so entrenched in the status quo that they feel threatened by a woman asking for improvement in their conditions? As one of the signs at the “Aurat March” stated, equal rights for other does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie! 

If change worries you, then perhaps you are part of the problem, and need to reflect upon your treatment of the women in YOUR lives. 

The answer, of course, is simple. Toxic masculinity. Dear men, you do not need to feel intimidated by women raising their voices. You do not need to feel attacked that women are able to validate themselves without your approval. As a collective, you should realise that women are conscious of their own oppression, that we are not willing to maintain the status quo of being second-class citizens, and we will no longer ignore your internalised misogyny. If change worries you, then perhaps you are part of the problem, and need to reflect upon your treatment of the women in YOUR lives. 

The “Aurat March” is not a one-off occasion which will die down in a couple of months. It is a revolution that is here to stay-put for the long run. Pakistani women are resisting and persisting — and we are here to support our sisters 100%.

Let’s not forget the women who weren’t at the “Aurat March”. The women who were forced to stay at home, or those who were worn down from hours-long worth of labour. Which is why we need the “Aurat March”. Because in this day and age, honour killings still take place. Women are still having acid thrown in their faces for refusing marriage proposals. We need entities like the “Aurat March” to not only advocate for women’s rights, but to challenge toxic masculinity that has been plaguing our society for too long.

What we do know is that nothing can take away from this historic movement in Pakistan’s history. The power lies within the way Pakistani women have mobilized to ensure better realities for women of all backgrounds.