Shahmeer Kazi comments about Aurat March contentious commemoration
Pakistani Aurat March polity is never free of hassles and the problem now is that the hassles occur ever so frequently rocking the national fabric that is already under plenty of stress. The societal polarisation has reached a stage whereby not only the proper position of the almost an equal segment of population is deeply contended by the other half of the population but also the prevailing global trends in this respect are also willingly defiantly ignored. As is the wont, Aurat March this year further widened the prevailing divisions within the country. The pity is that in this respect Pakistani society once again betrayed its inherent contradictions when the many segments of the population most prominent being the officialdom, vehemently denied that the country suffers from acute gender inequality. There is hardly any doubt that there exists stark gender imbalance in the country and this factor raises its head over so often and the Aurat march consequently was not an exception. This implies that almost a similar negative reaction to any exclusively female congregation, particularly the one aimed at emphasising their right to exist equally within the polity is due to deeply embedded gender prejudices and hard-to-give- up patriarchal tendencies.
Gender inequality is a serious issue palpable in every sphere of activity and depicted through multiple indicators. It is known that while 72 per cent own a house just 3 per cent of women own it on their own. Women are far behind the men in labour market as only 25 per cent of them participate in employment market as compare to 81 per cent of males. This situation has caused profound intra-household income disparities that result in marital and familial problems. The most important societal requirement for material prosperity is described to be the level of education of any given population and women in Pakistan lag behind in this respect as the adult female literacy is estimated at 46 per cent whereas the same number stands at 69 per cent for males. Female participation in national affairs also suffer from such disparity as it was estimated that in 2018 elections 11 million more men voted in the election than women. Even public representation of women in representative institutions considerably limited as just 20 per cent of the parliamentarians are women and that too in large part on reserved seats.
It is not only the vast disparity between the male and female population is worrisome but the attendant social ills that womenfolk face are also of grave concern. It is recorded that more than 28 per cent of women in Pakistan are subjected to physical violence with 26 per cent of married women sustaining injuries as a result of sexual or physical violence at the hands of their spouses. These difficulties emerge from the prevailing patriarchal attitude in Pakistani society whereby a large majority of men believe that problems arise when women earn more than them, that men have more right to a job than women do and that men make better political leaders than women do. These factors drive home the point that gender disparities in Pakistan are both pervasive and undeniable. This stark gender imbalance can be seen across most socioeconomic sectors within the country, including income, wealth, politics and education.
It is in this backdrop that the rumpus caused by Aurat March is required to be viewed. The opposition to Aurat March amply points out that Pakistani society and state both are in a constant state of denial increasing gender disparity that has become a huge challenge to the country. Since 2018, the Aurat March annual events have crated ripples across different cities of Pakistan and have provoked both favourable and unfavourable political reaction involving most segments of people. The question asked by many observers in this respect is the quantum of tangible political outcomes achieved by these marches and whether they have created enough space for the womenfolk to pursue their goals on their own. One factor however is quite clear that though the government of Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami, Women’s Action Forum and many NGOs have been celebrating international women’s day for decades but the crucial difference brought about by successive Aurat Marches within the spectrum of women’s movements has been the emergence of an entirely young leadership and a rude breaking of the silence on sexuality that has decisively rattled the socio-political balance of the society. Interestingly this aspect has been brought to fore very boldly and in essentially voluntary way that has changed the make-up of gender relations in the country.
Despite the young female leadership taking over delineated issues related to Aurat March but it is noted that the new leadership have gradually tried to evade the core concerns over political goals and religious issues that it considers problematic for their cause. This evasion has disappointed the female activists belonging to older generation that stressed challenging the state, laws and policies because they believed in wide ranging changes and consider this belief to be in consonance with the national mainstream. The generational change has also given rise to internal differences within the women movement of Pakistan pertaining to strategic disorientation and egoistic problems. This development is impeding the mission and could be as equally problematic issue as the backlash faced by it from multiple fronts. Another difficulty faced by the movement is that the Aurat Marches are loosely knit and there is no coherent vision or thematic uniformity. These marches also suffer from lack of adherence to specific organisational requirement creating tremendous confusion.
Though the Aurat Marches lack dedicated and exclusive connectivity yet they are not devoid of rationally designed mandate aimed at improving the female position in the country. The cumulated demands made by the organisers of Aurat March emphasise an end to patriarchal violence and increased representation of women at all levels of decision-making concerning climate change. They demanded to focus on the feminisation of climate justice and pointed out the lack of specific impact on women and young girls who have suffered from the depredations of recent flooding in the country. In light of this neglect, they demanded bringing an end to period poverty, ensuring economic justice and budgetary allocations for universal childcare in all formal work spaces in Pakistan and formalisation of informal sector and market where a majority of women are employed.
In another context Aurat Marches in Pakistan are in consonance with international efforts particularly the United Nations that spearheads them. The UN’s theme this year is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality highlighting how technology is crucial to advancing rights but a growing digital gender gap is impacting everything from women’s job opportunities to safety online. According to the UN, 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men and women are largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. It is also noticed though that while the UN’s theme this year underscores how the fight for gender equality has evolved in the 21st century, yet commemorations around the world are also focused on longstanding issues including poverty and violence. Attention is drawn to the fact that nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime an issue that ties in with women’s economic opportunities, access to sex education and reproductive rights. TW