IN a perverse way, there is a silver lining to the moral panic that afflicts authorities and conservative segments of society alike every year in the run-up to Aurat March on March 8, International Women`s Day. For therein lies clear evidence of the hostility that exists in much of society to the notion of equal rights, even more so to women themselves reclaiming the public space to demand these rights and denounce patriarchy. And that is why women march, to push back against this hostility in a powerful demonstration of their collective voice the voice of women from all walks of life: working women, housewives, trans women, in purdah and otherwise. This year, the Lahore deputy commissioner has taken the lead in opposing this exercise of democratic rights.
She has refused permission for the Aurat March to be held in the city because of security concerns, `controversial` placards and banners supporting women`s rights, and the possibility of clashes with members of Jamaat-i-Islami`s `Haya March`.
As is their wont, the authorities are getting the wrong end of the stick, deliberately. It is their duty to provide protection to the marchers instead of preventing them from exercising their fundamental right to participate in a peaceful rally far more peaceful, it must be pointed out, than many of the hate-filled demonstrations that cause mayhem on the streets time and again with impunity. However, even though it is but one day in the year that the women in this country have to claim as their own, when they can participate with the rest of the world in the call for gender equality, Aurat March participants are met with threats of violence by the religious right each time. And there is deadly intent behind these words. Marchers have been manhandled, pelted with stones, even falsely accused of blasphemy with doctored photos and videos. Not only has no one been punished for putting the women`s lives at risk, but it is the targets of the conservative rage that have been castigated for `provocative` slogans, principal among them being the very reasonable right to agency over one`s body. What kind of twisted mindset considers it `unseemly` to demand a right that is violated every time a woman is sexually harassed, raped, or subjected to domestic violence? Over the past several years, despite strong resistance from religio-political parties and unelected pressure groups, parliament has passed several pro-women laws. However, a patriarchal mindset coupled with bureaucratic apathy ensures that implementation remains patchy. It is high time the people`s representatives put their money where their mouth is and stopped pandering to misogynistic elements. For starters, those trying to create obstacles to prevent Aurat March from taking place must be told in no uncertain terms that the government stands with the women.