Witnessing Frere Hall would never be the same again for Karachiites as the ground of the exhibition hall became synonymous with the powerful Aurat March that takes place every year on International Women’s Day.
This year, the pre-gathering was more immense and intense than any of those held before. Ranging from people of all ages, classes, sects and genders, the aura this time around was strong enough to pull anyone in.
Security was tight and men could not enter the ground unless accompanied by a female escort. Moreover, free masks were distributed upon arrival in aid for the many citizens coming out despite fears of the deadly coronavirus.
Shouts could be heard far and wide as organizers of the Aurat March energized the crowd with empowering chants. Women shared success stories of how they surmounted oppression, fighting with fear and hate as they went onstage to tell the tale. Women and men held self-made posters under the crystal-clear sky giving colorful strokes of collective strength to the event.
Qirat Mirza, one of the organizers of the Aurat March, went on to explain some of the slogans having received the most backlash, and invigorating the crowd. Some of them made the most rounds on social media, namely, “Mera Jism Meri Marzi”, and 2018’s “Apna Khana Khud Garam Karo”, which achieved overnight fame.
Several posters hung up at the march that read: “Hum Aurtein” End to violence & sexual harassment,” and “Demand for fair and ethical representation in the media: We demand fair and ethical representation of women, non-binary and transgender persons in the media and sensitization training of all journalists on issues – especially related to gender-based violence.”
Noreen Fatima, from the Women Democratic Front (WDF), shared her views on the demands of the march,
“Girls are deprived of the rights they are born with. The patriarchal system takes away these rights and the status is kind of complicit in that.
Therefore, the demands for economic justice, for environmental justice, ensuring there is no harassment, any kinds of violence against women. These demands make sure that those things are put to an end; we want justice on all levels, not just in words but in action as well.”
Many notable celebrities also attended the event including Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Osman Khalid Butt.
Speaking to Dialogue Pakistan, Chinoy highlighted the greatness of having Pakistani women come out of their homes and partake in the Aurat March.
“History is full of those instances when women have achieved something or the other when they’ve raised their voices (…) When a woman demands for her rights, they are always faced with severe backlash. But many young girls now in Pakistan are aware of their rights and will continue demanding them regardless of any criticism.”
A male participant talked about improving social consciousness of men in society.
“We’ve come here to talk about everyone’s rights. Tomorrow if there’s another minority group in need of help, we will raise our voices for them too – all of these things comprise of a better society.”
Another said, “The more women uplift themselves, and become stronger, us men become better men too. When women are in good places, so are men, hence, both should be at equal footing in society.”
Dua Mangi, who had been mysteriously abducted and returned months ago, was seen present at the march alongside a paralyzed but happy Haris Soomro, whose attendance added more power to the cause and exemplifying perseverance.
The Aurat March was the beginning of many movements to come, centering on the demands of women and other minority groups, and surely to be remembered for decades to follow.