Women’s day – 08 Mar 2023
As Pakistan’s women join other women around the world in marking March 8 – International Women’s Day – it is perhaps only inevitable to be reminded of the various injustices women in our country go through on a daily basis. In a country where 1,000 women die in the name of honour killing, at least 12 million girls are out of school, and where rape is now alarmingly common, one day is obviously not enough to raise a voice for women’s rights to live with the dignity that needs to be accorded to all human beings. This year’s global theme for International Women’s Day is centred on digital inclusion. Unsurprisingly, our digital inclusion mirrors the gender gap found in almost all other areas of our society. Per research, 60 per cent of women internet users in Pakistan face some form of restriction from their families when accessing the internet. This is no less serious than restrictions on education and employment as digital platforms are poised to become the future of work, school, finance and all the other pillars that uphold an independent life. It should not come as a shock that a society that has sought to deny women autonomy for so long would seek to continue to do so, even as the world transitions into a digital age.
It is also important to remember the genesis of an international day for women. Originally known as International Women Workers Day, the idea was put forward by German Marxist Clara Zetkin in 1911. Soviet Russia became the first country to put this date on its calendar after 1917, when women in the country were granted the right to suffrage by the Bolsheviks. Today, the roots of the movement are barely known even to those who march along the streets. But it may be worth remembering that the idea of inclusion that is emphasized by more introspective women activists and workers is what the spirit of the day is all about. Today is about taking the women’s movement right to the grassroots level – to workers, to peasants, to the women it all began with. It is only with a spirit of inclusivity that the rights of all women will remain protected.
Women across Pakistan have been holding rallies and protests for years now on this day. The past few years though have seen an effort at a more cohesive coming together of women across the country in the form of the Aurat March. Suffice it to say, much like everything else women deign to do, the Aurat March has become a site of contestation in the country – everyone choosing to become arbiters of honour, culture, what women want, what women should want and so on. Lost in all this is the woman herself, whose right to even demand her rights is challenged at every step. In fact, women in Pakistan have mostly seen a mixed bag when it comes to their rights. Although there have been some efforts towards enacting some pro-women legislation, the real challenge is to ensure these are implemented. It must be reiterated though that women’s struggle for equality does not end with a few pieces of legislation. While many in authority positions will continue to pay lip service today to the cause of the Pakistani woman, it is important to remember that no real meaningful change will or can come about without a consolidated struggle for people – men and women – to break free from war, poverty and imperialist interventions, and strive towards social justice.