KARACHI: The Aurat March 2021 organisers invited on Monday the Pakistani government to “sit and talk” with them as their demands put forth a year earlier have still not been met.
Karachi’s Aurat March, running for the fourth consecutive year, was held at the Frere Hall and was transformed into the Aurat Dharna — Women’s sit-in — in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s about time our issues are resolved. We want the government to listen to our demands,” the speakers urged, noting that 50% of Pakistan’s population came out on the streets every year but there was “no resolution yet”.
Women, transgender people, and non-binary people stressed on the Aurat March’s 15-point agenda, saying it was an invitation to the federal PTI-led government and its provincial counterpart to read and start acting on it.
One of the organisers of the Aurat March on the International Women Day 2021, Qurat Mirza, underscored how incidents of rape were common in Pakistan.
A member of feminist group Aurat Haq as well as the Women Action Forum (WAF), Mirza cited cases of sexual assault and harassment in Sindh and Punjab, including Shikarpur and the Lahore motorway rape in her speech. She said sexual misconduct was rampant in everyday life and even in bazaars.
“I speak to Prime Minister Imran Khan. I demand this from the federal government. You won the vote of confidence — and congratulations on that — but if our demands aren’t resolved, the day isn’t far when people openly show their lack of trust in you,” she said.
“Patriarchal violence should be done away with for women, transgender people, and non-binary people. Come, sit with us and talk. We need more child protection centres and women MLOs [medico-legal officers],” she added.
Transgender activist Sophia-Layla spoke about the oppression transgender people face on a regular basis. “Oppression starts from small acts, for example, staring at us, making us uncomfortable and limiting our actions [in public spaces]. People start touching us without consent,” she told Geo.tv.
“I’m here to talk to the society and the government about trans and non-binary people in particular. We’re subjected to violence everyday, we’re killed, we have our rights stripped from us, we have promises made to us and now we’re standing here to ask for the fulfilment of those promises.
“The promises the society and the state made to us [should] be fulfilled,” she said.
Layla lamented how transgender people are either not hired by workplaces in the first place or fired later on.
“In hospitals, when taken in emergency, doctors debate our gender, pondering aloud whether we should be admitted to the male ward or the female one, which costs us our lives in the process,” she mentioned.
The trans activist underlined that although there was awareness among the people of Pakistan, it was necessary to ensure that they knew the community’s rights were “their responsibility as well”.
“The burden [of responsibility] cannot just be on the state and the society. This is everyone’s individual responsibility,” she said.
“Tell people that it’s not a joke [to be trans]. If your workplace does not have a trans person, then ask why that is so? Question your human resources departments about trans representation,” she said.
Hina, a gender non-binary person, however, was not very hopeful. When asked when Pakistan would become more understanding and accepting of transgender people’s rights, she said it would not happen in her lifetime.
“But I do think that it has to begin somewhere, it has to start somewhere, and this is the place where we’re starting it right now,” she said.
Hina noted that she was marching for working class people.
“I want the society and state to recognise our full humanity and consider the non-binary and trans people as equal citizens and equal humans of this land.”
A newly engaged couple were also at the march, taking in a breath of fresh air and enjoying the environment of independence.
Speaking to Geo.tv, the young woman said she did want equality but she also knew that the issues “can’t be resolved [right away] but they can at least be highlighted”.
“We’re not even sure [sometimes, because] our mothers ask us why do we even need to go [to the March]? They tell us that we have everything.
“But the March brings all the things and issues and challenges to the forefront. I want to be able to speak and I want many more women to come next year,” she said.
Her fiancé, when asked how he was using his privilege as a man in Pakistani society, said he made sure that his wife-to-be “gets the rights she deserves” as the responsibility on both of them was increasing.
“At the same time, I also talk to my family. I feel like, you know, our mothers, they’re so conditioned to [the status quo] and letting go of their basic rights so they need to unlearn all of this.
“I make sure that they have conversations … and we tell them the things that they have to stand up for.”