As the world decends into another economic recession, inflation has become a nightmare for marginalized communities in Pakistan, especially women and trans individuals, who are often the primary caregivers in their families. Rising food and fuel prices has made it increasingly difficult for them to provide for their families and meet basic needs. In addition, the lack of access to education and job opportunities has left them in a vulnerable position.
The Aurat March, happening on 8th of March this year, aims to highlight just the issues and demand solutions from the government and policymakers.
Marching for Climate Justice:
Climate justice is another item on the agenda this year. The devastating shift in earth’s climate has upended the lives of millions of people in South Punjab, when torrential floods hit the region last year. Women and trans individuals werr hit the worst by this man-made disaster which affected more than 20 million of them as they have limited access to resources and support systems. It is imperative that we address climate change and demand policies that prioritize the needs of marginalized communities. The Aurat March is an opportunity for women and trans individuals to come together and demand their rights. It is a platform to raise their voices and demand justice. I believe that the struggle for women’s rights is intertwined with the struggle for social and economic justice. We cannot achieve gender equality without addressing the underlying systemic issues that perpetuate inequality and marginalization.
I urge women and trans individuals from Multan and South Punjab to come together and join the Aurat March on 8th March, 4pm at Nawan Shehar Chowk. Let us raise our voices and demand justice for ourselves and our communities. Together, we can create a more just and equal society.
Visualizing a Feminist Society:
The demands put forth by the Aurat March Multan are important steps towards ensuring gender equality and protection of minority rights in Pakistani society, which is predominantly conservative in nature. In a conservative society like Pakistan, where gender roles and hierarchies are deeply ingrained, access to education for girls can be limited due to social and cultural barriers. The demand for guaranteed education for girls up to the age of 16 which is a constitutional right, is crucial in breaking down these barriers and ensuring that girls have equal access to education.
Breaking Barriers to Education:
Similarly, the demand for new colleges and universities with equitable access is important to provide opportunities for higher education for women and minorities who may not have access to it otherwise given the underfunded and neglected peripheral areas outside of the Lahore Metropolitan area.
Sexual Harassement; The Ugly Reality
Sexual harassment is a prevalent issue in Pakistani society, and the demand for active committees against sexual harassment in universities and strict implementation of anti-sexual harassment laws in the workplace and educational institutions is necessary to ensure that women and minorities are protected from this kind of abuse. We all have seen in universities and colleges where teachers have taken undue favors from female students.
Students’ Right to Unionisation:
The ban on student unions in universities across Pakistan has limited the ability of students to organize and advocate for their rights. The demand for the removal of this ban is an important step towards ensuring that students have a voice in their education and can hold educational institutions accountable for their actions. We recall and commend our comrades from PSC Multan who have been resisting and fighting to restore student unions since 2019. Their actions have resulted in gathering some traction towards The unban of student unions and functional sexual harassment committees in campuses.
An End to Illegal Detention/Torture:
Police violence and torture are serious concerns in Pakistani society, and the demand for a ban on police violence and torture through the Anti-Torture Bill is necessary to protect the rights of citizens, especially women and minorities who may be more vulnerable to abuse. We all remember Naqeeb Ullah Mehsud an aspiring model in Karachi who was shot extra judicially by Malir Cop.
Inclusiveness for the Differently -abled:
Accessible architecture in schools, government offices, and public spaces for people with disabilities, and separate accessible washrooms in schools is an important step towards ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal access to public services. I remember how Zahida Qureshi and Nadir Khan raised the issue of accessible architecture for Special Persons in Multan. We salute their struggle as to now State Bank of Pakistan has issued directives to banks to make ramps and create accessible infrastructure to cater the demands of PWD.
Inflation- adjusted, gender-sensitive minimum wage:
The demand for an inflation-adjusted and gender-conscious minimum wage is necessary to address this inequality and ensure that women and minorities are not further discriminated against in the workplace. Without such measures, the wage gap between men and women, and between different racial and ethnic groups, would likely persist and even widen, perpetuating the economic and social inequality that exists in capitalist societies.
The minimum wage is a tool to protect the rights of the working class and ensure that they are not subjected to exploitative labor practices. By adjusting the minimum wage for inflation, workers can maintain a minimum standard of living despite rising prices, while a gender-conscious approach would address the disproportionate impact of discrimination on women and ensure that they receive fair compensation for their labor. I would argue that a system that prioritizes profit over the well-being of workers will inevitably lead to inequality and discrimination. The demand for an inflation-adjusted and gender-conscious minimum wage is a step towards a more just and equitable society, where all workers are treated fairly and have access to basic necessities.
Protection For Domestic Workers:
Domestic workers, especially young girls, are often exploited and abused in Pakistani society, and the demand for protection of their rights is necessary to ensure that they are not subjected to such abuse.
The Scourage of Forced Marriages and Conversions:
Early marriage and forced conversion of religion are also serious issues in Pakistani society, particularly for women and minorities, there are many instances where women from Cholistan and Rural Sindh region belonging to Hindu community were converted to Islam by the Famous Sindhi Cleric Mian Mithu. The demand for laws against these practices and a legal marriage age of 18 in Punjab is important in protecting the rights of women and minorities.
Transgender Rights Act 2018:
The implementation of the Transgender Rights Act 2018 is necessary to ensure that transgender individuals are protected from discrimination and have equal access to opportunities. We all the know how since last year from Maria B to Orya this topic has ping ponged and we as audience has iced on that affair other than listening to Dr Mehrub.
For non-multan residents, we have Violence Against Women Center (VAWC). The Women Protection Bill and Women Crisis Center completion in Multan are important steps towards protecting the rights of women and ensuring that they have access to support and resources in cases of abuse or violence. This is because South Punjab territory deals with KPK, Sindh and Balochistan cases and women from those areas and South Punjab are subjected to fundamentalism that has sprawled over these region.
Universal Health Care:
Incorporation of human rights, climate change, and gender education into the high school curriculum is necessary to ensure that students are aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, as well as the importance of protecting the environment and promoting gender equality. Accessible health-care and employment opportunities, childcare for women employees in government and non-government institutions are important steps towards ensuring that women have equal access to health-care and employment opportunities.
Ending Period Poverty:
The removal of taxes on women’s hygiene and essential items is necessary to ensure that women and minorities are not financially burdened by basic necessities. We learned from Anum and Bushra runned Mahwari Justice campaign that majority of women even in urban sprawls has little access and finance to fund through their natural cycles.
Exploitation of various groups, including brick kiln workers, farmers, journalists, day laborers, polio workers, nurses, factory workers, private teachers and railway employees occur on a daily basis in Pakistan. The demand for abolition of this exploitation is necessary to ensure that these individuals are not subjected to abuse and are able to work in safe and fair conditions. Nurses in Multan have protested for a pay raise , journalist protests have been occurring since 2018 most have been working below the world bank poverty threshold.
Protecting Gender Minorities From Violence:
Legal action against terror-inducing activities against women and banning local panchayats to establish rule of law is important in protecting the rights of women and minorities and ensuring that they are not subject to harassment or intimidation. Watta Satta , Vani and what not we have all read on news can’t possess encompass the pain Women go through just for men to satisfy their fragile egos. Most of us recognize that patriarchy is deeply entrenched in our legal system, with men overwhelmingly dominating the judiciary. This has resulted in a legal system that often fails to protect the rights of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups. We demand an increase in the number of women judges, especially in Lahore High Court, Multan, and Bahawalpur Benches. We believe that increasing the representation of women in the judiciary is a crucial step towards creating a legal system that is more responsive to the needs and concerns of all members of Seraiki Waseb.
The Benazir Income Support Program and Ration Program which are intended to provide support to vulnerable populations, including women and children. However, these programs have been plagued by corruption and mismanagement, with many beneficiaries being denied the support they are entitled to. The government has enforced many laws that prohibit and limit poor women from accessing the BISP. We demand an end to corruption and ill-treatment of women in the Benazir Income Support Program and Ration Program. We believe that these programs should be run in a transparent and accountable manner, with strict measures in place to prevent corruption and ensure that support is provided to those who need it most. The Government must build centers where women and trans individuals who don’t have NICs and Sim cards bought on their respective ID cards should have to the Income support Programme.
In the aftermath of floods and other natural disasters, women and children are often the most vulnerable. They may lack access to food, water, and shelter, and may be at increased risk of disease and violence. We demand that the government take urgent action to ensure the food, health, shelter, education, and protection of flood-affected women and children. This should include measures to provide emergency relief and support, as well as longer-term efforts to rebuild infrastructure and strengthen resilience to future disasters. We all know for a fact that harassment and violence against women is pervasive in our society, and that many victims are hesitant to come forward due to fear of retaliation or stigma. We demand the creation of effective portals to report incidents of harassment and violence against women. These portals should be safe, confidential, and accessible to all members of society. They should also be backed up by strong legal protections and effective mechanisms for investigation and prosecution.
Persecution of Religious Minorities:
Religious minorities in Pakistan face discrimination, persecution, and violence on a daily basis. This includes the desecration of religious places and other criminal acts intended to intimidate and marginalize minority groups. We demand that the government take strong legal action to stop the desecration of religious places and criminal acts against minority worship. This should include measures to protect minority communities, prosecute perpetrators of violence and hate speech, and promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.
Protection Against Child Abuse:
Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime that can cause lifelong harm to victims. Unfortunately, it is also a widespread problem in our society, with many perpetrators going unpunished and many victims suffering in silence. We demand effective measures to prevent sexual abuse of children. This should include measures to educate children and adults about the risks of sexual abuse, as well as measures to identify and intervene in cases of abuse. It should also include strong legal protections for victims, including access to counseling and support services.
The Right to Shelter:
I believe that access to safe and affordable housing is a fundamental human right. Women who are victims of domestic violence or have no other means of support should have access to secure shelters such as Dar ul Aman and working women hostels. These shelters should be adequately funded and staffed, with trained professionals who can provide the necessary support and resources to help women rebuild their lives.
Right to Internet Access:
In today’s digital age, internet access is essential for full participation in modern society. The access to technology should be a fundamental right, and that the digital divide must be eliminated. This means providing affordable internet access to all, regardless of their socioeconomic status or geographic location. It also means investing in programs and initiatives to promote digital literacy and ensure that all individuals have the skills and knowledge to fully participate in the digital world.
The damaging effects of gender stereotypes and the role they play in perpetuating inequality and discrimination against women. It is crucial that we work to eliminate gender stereotypes from textbooks, electronic media, and social media, and instead promote gender equality and diversity. This means incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences into educational materials, and holding media outlets accountable for promoting gender equality and inclusivity. It is essential to recognize and honor the contributions of human rights leaders such as Rasshid Rehman who fought for the rights of women and marginalized communities. We must demand justice for Rashid who have been persecuted or killed for his activism, and work to create a society that respects and values human rights. This means holding those in power accountable for their actions, and working to create a world where human rights are protected and upheld for all.
I am aware that the article is rather a long read for all of us but Aurat March Multan is a students and women run movement that is trying to set a precedent for the future about how we visualize an egalitarian and ideal future. It’s our open letter to the future.
Jowdut is a working journalist and a student activist. He is also one of the organisers of the Aurat March Multan.