In the past few years, Aurat March has emerged as a symbol of hope for a better society for all. On the 8th of March, thousands of women in Pakistan are going to take to the streets again in order to claim their social, political and economic rights that have been denied to them by the patriarchal status quo that reigns supreme in Pakistan.
Aurat March has arguably become the most inclusive movement the country has ever witnessed. Those who proudly associate with the movement are from all walks of life: they are Baloch, Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashtun; they are students, domestic workers, academics, doctors, lawyers, brick kiln workers, housewives, health workers. The movement has also made an active effort to be inclusive of sexual minorities. Aurat March has consistently represented a very intersectional understanding of women’s issues, linking them to issues of race and class. They have also spoken out against political repression and censorship, and have advocated the safe return of Baloch missing persons, as well as for climate justice.
This inclusivity is not just reflected in each year’s charter of demands but has been witnessed by those who have been following the work that Aurat March activists have been involved in. They fought for fair wages for brick kiln workers, supported students in their fight against sexual harassment on campuses, organised demonstrations on the issue of missing persons and have even arranged medical camps in working-class neighbourhoods.
Aurat March is rapidly becoming increasingly popular. With every passing year, the number of cities organising marches is increasing. This year Aurat March Lahore has decided to focus its campaign around issues regarding women’s access to healthcare facilities. In addition to advocating for a larger national budget allocation for healthcare (at least more than 5% of GDP), Aurat March recognises universal healthcare for all as a civil right and is demanding an end to the privatisation of healthcare, that is “…turning healthcare into a for-profit business rather than a public service”.
Some perceive Aurat March as a threat to our ‘culture’. Most people who make such misguided claims about the movement have never interacted with people who are actively a part of it, nor have they ever read the Aurat March Manifesto, which clearly states and thoroughly explains Aurat March Lahore’s motives and goals. Or perhaps these individuals consider rigid exploitative and oppressive gender norms a defining characteristic of Pakistani culture. Targeted hate campaigns online and in some cases on cable television have endangered the well being of the organisers of the march as well as its participants. However, despite these campaigns, more and more women and men of all ages are joining the movement that seems to be growing exponentially.
Although turnout for this year’s march is expected to be relatively low due to the pandemic, Aurat March Lahore is committed to continuing its community outreach programs throughout the year. All progressive entities that consider themselves allies of Aurat March should support their efforts to intervene in working-class communities meaningfully.