“I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”
By Shujauddin Qureshi
The world is observing International Women’s Day on March 8 to recognize the importance of gender equality in every sphere of life.
This year (2020) is important as the United Nations is also observing the silver jubilee of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action held in China in 1995. This year’s theme of International Women’s Day is: “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”.
Pakistan had actively taken part in the Beijing Women’s Conference and then Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had taken part in this important conference.
In her address at the Beijing conference on September 4, 1995, Benazir Bhutto clearly emphasized the importance of women, especially in a Muslim society.
“Freedom of choice alone does not guarantee justice. Equal rights are not defined only by political values. Social justice is a triad of freedom, equality, of liberty: Justice is political liberty. Justice is economic independence. Justice is social equality,” she stated in Beijing.
Aurat Azadi March
“Mera Jism Meri Marzi” was one of the prominent slogans in the Aurat Azadi March (Women Freedom March) last year when women observed International Women’s Day in major cities of the country by taking out marches in major cities. Although there were many other slogans for women’s rights which were also termed objectionable, the slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” received a severe lashing. It also raised the eyebrows of many in Pakistan as religious leaders and right-wing political party leaders objected to such slogans. They, not only criticised the women organisers of the March in TV programmes, but they hurled threats to many at public places.
Many such influential males with the narrow-mindedness of patriarch, misogyny and toxic masculinity severely criticized the women leaders in their seminars and social media posts, some others termed the march an “NGOs’ Agenda”. Some more zealots went to the courts to stop Aurat March. The Lahore High Court, however, dismissed such a petition. The federal and provincial governments have clearly allowed the march.
In Sindh, the Women Action Forum and many other women’s and human rights organisations have announced to hold of Aurat Marches in Sukkur and Karachi. The Sukkur March has received severe censure. The extreme-right wing religious-cum-political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) is on top of the political parties opposing the women\’s march in Sukkur. Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (Noorani group) have also supported the JUI stance. But JUI central leader Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro hurled threats in a public rally and asked its workers to stop the Sukkur rally. These threats received severe criticism on social media from rights activists and human rights organisations. Later, Soomro telephoned one of the organisers of the Sukkur March Dr. Arfana Mallah and assured her that his party would not oppose the activity.
However on the next day, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressed a rally in Karachi, apparently against price-hike, but in that rally, he severely criticized the Aurat March and later a twit was posted on his official account stating that his party “would not allow any act against Quran, Sunnah and traditions in the name of human rights.”
Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) has openly supported the Aurat March and its central leadership has asked the provincial government to ensure the security of the marches in Karachi and Sukkur.
The Sindh PTI’s President Haleem Adil Shaikh, however, has opposed the Aurat Azadi March and demanded the government to stop it. In a Facebook post, he termed it “an attempt to distort the image of Pakistani women.” His statement was also criticised on social media.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari has supported the Women’s March and condemned any attempt to stop the activities.
The Aurat Azadi March further came into the limelight when in a live TV show on March 3 on a not-so-popular Neo TV channel the famous playwright Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar used abusive language against the woman activist and writer Marvi Sarmad. The playwright objected to the slogan “Mera Jism Meri Merzi”, but he used very objectionable language to banish the woman rights activist.
This onslaught against women was severely criticised on both electronic and social media. On the next day, some other TV channels again invited Qamar, but he refused to apologise for his yesterday words. The women rights activists are demanding a complete ban on his appearance in TV programmes and on his dramas.
Although women rights activists are ready to proceed to hold Aurat March in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Sukkur, there are apprehensions that the march may be disturbed by the right-wing political parties and groups who are openly opposing the event.