Feminist revolution arrived in Pakistan!
Published : Monday, 9 March, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 786
While languages in the subcontinent including Urdu, are extremely evocative in expressing the full range of human emotion, it is a shame that we still have to rely on words such as 'zyadti' (excess) or 'zina-bil-jabr' (adultery by force) or 'asmat-dari' (defloration) to refer to inhuman incidents such as the 'rape'.
With the Aurat March, terms such as 'pidar shahi' (patriarchy) and 'aurat march' had been circulated and created.
Slogans such as 'ghar ka kaam, sab ka kaam', 'khud khana garam karo', 'consent (ijazat) ki tasbeeh roz parhein', and - my favourite - 'paratha rolls, not gender roles' simply offered a local flavour to the ways we can talk about feminism and gender.
We do however understand that the need to ask for consent and examine gendered roles may not be part of public discourse in Pakistan, which is why this aurat march, is definitely a step in the right direction. Longest journeys have begun with a single step forward...
The crowd sourced production of vocabulary, with signs and slogans, that could have been used to speak of women's rights and issues, is part of the revolutionary impact that the Aurat March had enjoyed. Even at the level of visual aesthetics, the March broke through Pakistani society's conventions in the best ways. In Karachi, brilliant women were seen escorting 'pidarshahi ka janaza' (the funeral procession of patriarchy).
Not only did this event deserve high points for creative resistance, but just the sight of women carrying a 'janazah' through the streets of Pakistan had been revolutionary, for women are rarely, if ever, have been seen as pallbearers of a funeral casket. Even funeral processions etiquette has laid down many limitations or restrictions for women. Only last year, Asma Jahangir's funeral, where men and women were seen praying together, eyebrows was raised over women's presence and participation in the ceremony.
This visual of patriarchy's funeral not only gave way to symbolic resistance, but it also had questioned the notions of acceptability and female visibility in our customs, along with immense new possibilities of challenging these gender-discriminatory rules.
Most importantly, women's mobilization or their informal 'leap' in the form of the Aurat March had banished the belief that women are not conscious of their own oppression. The idea that women are complicit in maintaining the status quo that has decreed them a second-class status. They were unwilling or unprepared to fight for their rights having utterly ignored the protective features of internalised misogyny.
Indeed, personally I have looked forward to meet a woman who does not possess the awareness that world we live in, is unjust to women. It was only a matter of varying circumstances and approaches when it came down to what women chose to do about that. Women were always found resisting against patriarchal forces in their own ways: sometimes subtle, at times overt. For a lot of Pakistani women, mere survival has been the portrait of resistance.
And rarely in this case, in a glorious, glorious feat, women were able to come together to lay patriarchy to rest on the streets of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.
The next time a man would asks me why Pakistani women only complain instead of doing something, I will, with all due--but not deserved--respect, happily pass on pictures from the Aurat March, in his face.
When the structure of (Muslim) society is rigged against the mere idea of women gathering outside the home, when all institutions of society are colluding with each other behind men's backs, in fact on each other's backs, to keep everyone entrapped in the restricted role that was inscribed for the the woman at home, pulling off an endeavour such as the Aurat March, had been no easy task.
I cannot imagine the anxieties of the organizers, who, on top of the hurdles that come with organising a massive event. They must have been plagued by security concerns. Not surprisingly, these women did finish the initial spade work that was necessary, but that by no means, would had been easy.
Just take into account a simple hurdle in the way. Imagine the number of women and girls who had to fight their family members to attend the March, who had to seek permission to fight for their humanization. I can only empathise with those who were barred from attending. And then there were those women who had to make arrangements to delegate their tasks and duties in order to mark themselves present at the 'Aurat March'.
I can only imagine the enraged and enlivened sentiments of women who were unable to go, for whatever reason, and wanted nothing else but to be among the throngs of women, imagining the banners they would have carried had they been able to march alongside their 'sister comrades'.
I am confident there are women in Pakistan right now, who are already making plans to attend next year's marches--even some, who may be hyped and ready to dismantle the misogynistic foundations of their Islamic country. There are those right now who can envision the possibility of marching from more cities of Pakistan!
Events like Thar March had allowed women to create opportunities for themselves, and lead from the front. It is occasions like the Aurat March that put to shame anyone who have believed that women make for weak leaders or cannot be leaders. It is unfortunate that the proponents of such opinions are one too many, and it is truly ironic that these conclusions are made without ever considering women's potential to lead.
None of this is to say that women's mobilizations in Pakistan had somehow been unprecedented. The unrelenting resistance by Pakistani women against Zia's regime is imprinted on Pakistan's historical memory and the iconic chadar burning protests are a canonical visual in Pakistan's history of feminism.
Pakistani women have always been resisting...and public gatherings such as the March bear testament.
Not because our women are the mothers of the earth, or some God-ordained, socially and emotionally intelligent creatures with special 'women's skills'. All this is believed simply because they constitute a good half of the population, and it is time for all to claim equal footing in this world.
In a society where women are told to disappear inside their houses--and then even disappear from their houses on the arrival of male guests, where women are told not to be loud, told that they must accept things as they are, the visual of women going out on the streets--chanting, shouting, dancing, marching, leading, fighting--is remarkable.
The march had reignited hope in a world where gender has ceased to become grounds for marginalisation. With every woman and chant, it instructed others to keep the 'rage' alive, budding and burning.
The event had loudly screamed to me that the fight had only just begun, and yet had simultaneously been alive for centuries. To me it had promised that, in the years to come, the crowds will grow bigger, the representation will get better, the voices will grow louder.
And for now, let us all chant together in chorus:
"Jab tak aurat tang rahegi, jang rahegi, jang rahegi!"
(So long women are pushed baca by limitations, this struggle will continue...)
My highest tributes go for the brave hearted, rising women of Pakistan. Let us help them to keep their morale high.
The writer is former educator based in Chicago