KARACHI: Aurat March 2021 is “a labour of love and pain” of and for Pakistanis, said a student activist who has worked with organisers of the Women’s Day event, stressing that there wasn’t “any international funding”.
In her 20s, Shizza Malik told Geo.tv that she had been working with the Aurat March organisers for over a year now. However, she expressed dismay that no worthwhile efforts were made in response to the demands made in the 2020 rally.
“I’m here because there has been no notable work over the past year on the substantial demands we had put forward in last year’s Aurat March,” Malik said.
“It’s extremely disappointing and, given the fact that we’re in a global pandemic, we see that all the issues that various communities face — especially the religious minorities, sexual minorities, working class — have only exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nothing adequate or meaningful has been done on the demands presented earlier, while concerns have only risen during the pandemic,” she regretted.
Running for the fourth consecutive year, Karachi’s Aurat March was held at the Frere Hall and was transformed into the Aurat Dharna — Women’s sit-in — in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants gathered at the historical landmark, where speeches were made and tableaux performed, before the rally headed towards what’s left of the Metropole Hotel, wherefrom the Shahrah-e-Faisal starts.
The crux this year was for the Pakistani authorities to take the Aurat March 2021 demands seriously, which is why marchers took to Karachi’s main artery and blocked it for a few minutes to register their protest.
Asked what the first step towards an empowered society would be, Malik, the student activist, said the “state needs to at least read our demands” because attention is purposefully diverted from the soul of the protest towards what the society terms are “obscene” posters.
“We’re here with more fervour this year, we staged a sit-in so that we can register our protest and for the state to start taking our demands seriously.
“Every year, someone or the other gets upset over a single poster and we’re labelled as ‘obscene’. But, please, read our demands, which are very simple yet super impactful,” she noted.
Among the demands put forth by Aurat March 2021 are setting up cells to report gender-based violence, making the mechanism convenient for women to report the incidents, hiring women officers, and the sensitisation of government officials and medical professionals.
“We need more shelter homes as well. We have asked the government of Sindh to legislate and put forward a bill against forced conversions and implement it. There’s no implementation [in this regard] yet,” she stressed.
Malik also voiced her concern about the violence seen in Pakistan on a daily basis. It “needs to be stopped completely”, she stated, demanding that aggression and cruelty against “girls, trans bodies, non-binary people … against everyone needs to end”.
“Aurat March is a labour of love and pain. Every year, people claim that we’ve received a lot funds or that someone or some organisation is funding us.
“But we’re all poor, we’re working class, none of us have any kind of international funding,” the activist clarified. “We only do this because we’re passionate, we believe in this cause.
“We want to celebrate ourselves and we want others to celebrate themselves as well.”