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Aurat March: Why slogans derailed the movement

Aurat March 2019 (women march) took place on 8th March, the day designated as International Women’s Day. It was organized by a feminist collective Hum Auratein and many people including men, women and transgenders came together in different cities of Pakistan to voice women’s rights. The Aurat March manifesto as well as their demands, if one reads through the documents, make a lot of sense and actually align with the true purpose and meaning of Feminism, which is primarily the promotion of inclusivity and equal access to personal, social, religious and economic opportunities for people from all genders; a concept I fully support and endorse. It was a momentous occasion, one that held a lot of emotional and reasonable meaning especially for the people involved.

“Feminism is an international brand, what Pakistan has is a Chinese replica.”

As is with media these days, it wasn’t long before some of the more “atrocious”, “taboo” and “socially unacceptable” placards from the march started showing up online with captions where the bottom line was, “hmmm…aurat march .. really? ..”, which I quoted to refrain from having to reproduce more disrespectful captions. Lo and behold, the whole effort of the movement as well as the march came down to one single argument, “aurat march is a dajali fitna (a demonic sedition) to make women go astray” in light of the placards that to the majority were plain fahashi (vulgarity)! Some of the signs can be witnessed in the pictures grouped together below:

However, I was not surprised, were you?

Before I move onto why I think these slogans totally derailed the movement, let me take your through some of the more common justifications to the aforementioned accusations of “spreading religious strife” and “a move to make women go astray” that I found and sometimes battled online:

“Hello Men! Hold on before you bash ladies holding placards asking you to let them live. When they say, ” Mera jism meri marzi” it just means they are fed up of YOU TELLING them how to walk, how to budge, how to stand how to sit. It does not mean they are selling off their bodies.”

My question, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

“When they say ” dupatta khud phen lo” they are tired of YOU TELLING them what to wear. They may wear dupatta but please don’t dictate.”

Again, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

“When they say ” apna khana khud garam karlo” that means they are tired of cooking for you 3 times a day and doing the dishes all time. That means YOU can also contribute sometimes.”

I plead, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

“When they say ” lo yun Beth gai” they are tired of you staring at them while they sit in any way they think comfortable.”

My question, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

“When they say ” Awara bad chalan aurat” they are fed up of YOU setting the character standards for them while yourself being engaged in all kind of immoral things. That doesn’t mean they also want to be Awara bad chalan. They are just showing you a mirror.”

Then, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

“When they say ” azad aurat” they are tired of you labeling them slut when they try to make independent decisions. You don’t impose your views, labels, decisions on these ladies and they won’t rebel. Yes, you are also working and doing all the things for your family but that doesn’t give you an authority to be the God of Morality, God of Dress Code, God of Character, God of how2sit, God of what not.”

I beg to ask, why not say a precise version of this exact sentiment?

There was backlash saying, “Try to read the implicit messages behind the placards instead of showing off your frustration on social media.” However, I saw on more forums than one, that whenever anyone and especially a man tried to discuss their viewpoint on the march and that too face to face, women responded by saying, “I do not have enough time to explain to you what the march meant – if you cared enough you would have gone and done your research.” Wake up and smell the coffee people, this country does not do the research, you have to do it for them if you want them to change and that is a brutal reality.

Then there were thoughts like – “It’s not like we are unaware of our shortcomings. We have been having so many complex debates within the organisation committee on so many things, and then tried to make it as inclusive and welcoming for unprivileged spaces as we could. We KNOW what we lacked, we can self evaluate very well, but from now on we refuse to take the “concerns” of cismen seriously about our “aurat march” when they DONT SUPPORT US IN THE FIRST PLACE”. First off, with the use of words like cismen – which was more than usual – what point does the writer want to make that if you are comfortable with the gender you are born with that means you are caving in to social pressures? Seriously? And why would anyone wishing to change the narrative refuse to take in the concerns of the majority involved?

Then – “Most of us had lied at home to do outreach for the March  , to put up posters everywhere, to even be at the March, and so many other obstacles that we have been trying to overcome. But of course criticism is easy and men do get “concerned” when women mobilize on a public space and do anything.” and – ” How ironic that men never support us, never appreciate what we achieve after a long struggle and massive opposition, never play their own part as well, but the first ones in the row for criticism to tell us what they think was lacking and what went wrong.” while at the same time, nearly everyone at the march claims that it was not against men.

One more important perspective that I definitely feel the need to share is – “Most people having ‘serious issues’ are those who have been sucked in by mainstream propaganda and are getting because of a few ‘beghairat’ posters. It is better to not engage them, they have counterarguments ready and always use Islam. One cannot argue with them further since being accused of blasphemy is a real thing! Be safe, ladies.”

So let’s get this right, if someone agrees with the version of events as narrated by the proponents of Pakistan’s brand of feminism, they are liberated by the dogmatism that ails our culture but if they have an opinion of their own, they have been sucked in by mainstream propaganda? That is very convenient to say the least.

True feminism was never about one gender alone, it was never about belittling a group of the society or a whole gender at that, it was never about cismen or ciswoman which is apparently a bad thing now because we are so liberated and “trans is good”. It was always about equality for all. And while the march was all about broader concepts, greater evils, bigger problems, the slogans made it all about vilification. Because it wasn’t about intellectual supremacy or who puts forth the best pun the most witty satire, or who could do one better. It was about changing mindsets and you cannot change mindsets by provoking them. It only drives the opinion holder up the wall benefiting no one.

Since everyone is entitled to opinions, here is mine:

If a man tells me how to walk, how to stand and how to sit – I focus on the source – if it’s my father i know he has good intentions at heart and I listen – if it’s a random person, male or female – who cares what he or she is saying. Similar taunting things are said to men too each and every day.

If a man tells me what to wear – which i can’t believe anyone other than your father and/or your husband can do – I ignore. If you are being forced into an outfit, however, that is a completely different thing. My advice: don’t listen!

If you are sick of cooking and cleaning the house, well switch roles for a day. Figure out a solution. In a household either one is the bread-earner or both are – in either of these situations a compromise is possible. I have lived it and  so have many other. Also, men can say the same – apni rozi roti khud kama lo – because they too can be tired of working day in day out. But then that becomes offensive to the torch bearers of feminism in Pakistan.

If men set character standards for women – society including women have set character standards for men calling them playboys, dil phaink, character less, rangeen and the list goes on. The list goes on and includes “bad chalan”. Yes, I agree sometimes women as well as men have been labeled as character less based solely on their certain decisions that allowed them to move more independently in the society yet, those closest to these people know the reality of their soul, good or bad. What lack of confidence requires any man or woman to seek validation from the entire nation? If someone calls you a slut why does it matter if you really aren’t one? Would someone calling you a chor matter to you if you aren’t in real a thief?

It was strange to see that women were holding placards that clearly could be misinterpreted but they did so anyway. Because we are calling it liberation, women’s rights and what not. I am sorry but no one will come to you for clarification on these posters and their deeper meanings. Perceptions are stronger than reality and while our whole lives we are taught not to judge a book by its cover, we rarely ever listen.

I am all for equality but if women are to have equal rights then by all means do away with the quota system which is in place in all facets of academic as well as economic life in Pakistan but I never saw this on a slogan. If a man vacates a seat for you then he is chivalrous but only if you feel like it. You can just as well label the same act as a display of misogyny because he thought you weaker and therefore vacated a seat for you? What is right, what is wrong?

I support Feminism. But Pakistan’s brand of feminism fails to impress. Being allowed to dance sans clothes in streets in the name of feminism is something I personally do not see as inspirational. The use of the statement, ” dance sans clothes in streets” was a metaphor by the way – not intended at anyone nor at the march. But when I used this metaphor at another forum I was told to watch my language! Why? Couldn’t you see the underlying deeper meaning behind the metaphor? Can you see now, how easily metaphors can be misinterpreted?

Come 9th March, and social media pages flooded with more images of placards from the march, this time ones that made more sense and put the right message out there. Some of these can be seen in the images grouped together below:

These images were shared with the captions, “what meme pages will not show you”! However, as pathetic as it sounds, it was not just meme pages that openly discussed the “fahash” slogans, it was every media page, every media person, every non-social media page, every non-social media person, every news website, every Watsapp, every Facebook account and every Instagram account. The damage was done!

What’s even worse is that if someone tries to discuss it – the feminist parade starts to rile up. If someone tries to talk about what they think, it is labeled as frustration or ‘mansplaining”, especially in the case of men? How is this not equivalent to confining views within socially set standards of male domination?

Why can’t people debate? When was it ever about just listen to me, “I am woman hear me roar” and that’s it? Whatever “I the aurat” says goes? I have spent 34 years in this world too. In this exact society and I am a woman as well. I have a mother who has a been a working woman all her life. I have friends who were born empowered. I was born empowered!

This Internationals Women’s Day I spent with women who are helping other women up. Making way for them through their experiences and doing their 9-5 shift – enabling the difference through their efforts.

I didn’t have to take to the roads to convince my conservative family to allow my younger female cousins to become doctors and follow their dreams. I showed it to them through examples from my own life. Because that’s how change comes – through you and your actions. Not your clothes, the way you sit, the way you stand or the way you choose to use your body.

I get the metaphors – don’t get me wrong. But I’m sorry that that’s all they were. Amongst the condescending tones, the true meaning of feminism was lost. The slogans derailed the movement, yes they did. We can call it whatever we like, myopic mindset and all that, but this was an opportune moment to change the perspective yet it went down the drain. I am told that it didn’t go down the drain, that it made conversations like these possible. I say that it was a more serious effort on part of millions of women that made these conversations happen several years ago, which is why women are even able to march today.

“Kuch tou log kaheinge – logon ka tou kaam hai kehna – par yaad rahay – log aap bhi hain aur log mein bhi houn”


Disclaimer: I am not a hater of feminism. True feminism is my cup of tea. I advocate for women’s right to life, education, opportunity and happiness. My opinions are not perfect but I am entitled to them all the same.

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  • Muneer

    It is a comprehensive explanation of recent debate-taking place after women march. The opinion share here is balanced, logical and is based on ethics. The extremist on both sides should have dialogue on the issues as mentioned in the article. Good piece of writing. Keep it up.

  • Ramsha

    “I didn’t have to take to the roads to convince my conservative family to allow my younger female cousins to become doctors and follow their dreams. I showed it to them through examples from my own life. Because that’s how change comes – through you and your actions. Not your clothes, the way you sit, the way you stand or the way you choose to use your body.”

    This is a really condescending and self congratulatory conclusion to have reached, considering the fact that you were not even present at the March, nor part of its organising efforts. Sure you can criticise the slogans, but the women there had a right to express their sentiments of anger. I don’t think anyone at the march owed it to you, or anyone else to express their anger in a more palatable way. Feminism has never been digestible for those it challenges. Slogans or no slogans, aurat march still would have gotten a lot of shit from the public.
    And secondly, one’s body is just as political as one’s actions. There is such a thing as gender identity and gender expression. Queer, trans, non binary individuals, even cis men and women may choose to challenge confining gender norms exactly through the way they sit, the way they dress, the way they stand, and the way they choose to use their bodies. This is not a trivial, or childish effort. People get killed sometimes for making these choices in a patriarchal and heterosexual society. Even they don’t owe it to you or anyone to present themselves in a more decent way for your version of feminism to blossom.
    Good on you for whatever efforts you make in your personal life. But don’t hold yourself up as better than anyone else’s efforts. There is no one true feminism or 3 point agenda that we should be following. Intersectionality has taught us that much.

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