Picture this: You’re eagerly anticipating a visit to a pristine beach, breathlessly savouring the joy it will bring you. But upon arrival, you find yourself in a forest of unsightly weeds, your view destroyed, your expectations shattered. This analogy encapsulates the experience of attending Aurat March since a couple of years.

What promised to be a show of solidarity is marred by the presence of disruptive YouTubers.

Aurat March is an annual gathering for women and gender minorities where they lay down their demands before the state as well as celebrate sisterhood. It is an extension of the long-fought struggle of Pakistani women, extending from the country’s birth to this day.

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But standing against the march is an extremist segment of society — a mindset further fueled by Youturbers and reporters from small news channels. With the monetization of YouTube, video creation has developed an appeal for many around the world. A number of vloggers have achieved financial success solely through their YouTube endeavours.

You must have noticed that content creators often promise rewards or incentives for their viewers if they help them reach 1000 views. This metric, known as Clicks Per Mile (CPM), determines the earnings generated from these views, with one crucial factor being the geographic location of the audience.

In Pakistan, YouTube offers lower payouts compared to other regions, ranging from 0.5 USD to 1 USD per 1000 views, particularly if the viewership is primarily Pakistani.

While this may appear modest, the potential for increased earnings exists through attracting international viewership and maintaining a consistent upload schedule. With dedication and growing subscriber counts, Pakistani content creators on YouTube can unlock substantial earning opportunities over time.

This is why, to get more views, Youtubers now resort to clickbait i.e. misleading headlines and captions while the content too, is deliberately sensational and controversial. For this, truth is compromised as reality is misquoted and misconstrued.

And so, Aurat March has become a coffer of abundance for content creators.

The March’s organisers have, time and again, received complaints from the attendees who are pestered by YouTubers who deliberately try to provoke the women with problematic questions. In a staunchly misogynistic society, even a slightly irritated woman is worth a few thousand views.

This year, at Aurat March Lahore, a YouTuber made his way to the congregation for the first time. When asked why he came to cover the March, he counter-questioned, asking why women felt the need to come out on the streets since “women already have rights”.

Not only was this YouTuber unwilling to listen to the people willing to list down the reasons why women march, it also showed that he had not read the charter of demands nor the manifesto — another common bad habit of Youtubers.

“What problems do women have? Hasn’t your dad kept your mother happy? What about those men who aren’t happy because of the women in their lives?” another asked as he allied himself with his counterpart.

“It seems like you come with preconceived notions about the March and the attendees, and an ill will to malign the voices altogether”, I asserted as the YouTuber then resorted to misinterpreting ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’.

In reply, their questions and comments only got more personal and extreme.  “Are you a Muslim,” he asked.

“You should have your head covered because it is a compulsion in our religion,” he claimed, adding that women’s immodesty was the reason for increase in rape as he conveniently absolved men of all actions.

With a limited understanding of the slogan, and basing it on attire and perceived vulgarity, YouTubers like these appear worryingly ignorant of everyday struggles women have to encounter from domestic spaces to state institutions like the court.

Worse still, they hope to get clicks from the thousands of patriarchal followers they have amassed by bashing women. Only last month, former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife became a target in a courtroom where weightage was given to her opponent i.e. her ex-husband’s claims about her menstrual cycle rather than the woman herself. The court then annulled her marriage deeming her claims as lies. This sparked outrage across the country from civil society as it took away a woman’s agency from her own body while a man’s claim was taken into consideration for the judgement.

This also made people reconsider their understanding of the slogan ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’ — a phrase that merely demands the patriarchy to keep its hands off women’s bodily integrity.But the naysayers choose to keep their eyes and ears muffled.

“We are disappointed that like every year, this year also YouTubers chose to come to the March as bad faith actors who resorted to harassing the marchers and disrupting our art installations for content when they couldn’t find any other fodder for their click-bait coverage”, said an Aurat March representative from Lahore.

On the other hand, Yusra Khan from Multan narrates that while it was welcoming to see YouTubers and journalists covering the March this year and broadcast it for women who could not make it, it was concerning to see how their behaviour was troublesome for the attendees as well as the image of the March.

“They tried asking some controversial questions but the women countered them very well, but their body-language was aggressive and they topped that with personal comments on the female interviewees which clearly showed that they wanted to create a controversy and add it to their YouTube thumbnail to increase the rating for their content”, she said.

While women, as well as some men, countered the clickbait machine, many avoided them altogether. Khan recalls that their focused revolved around questions like: “You do not know anything regarding the March, then why are you here?What freedom do you need?”

Adding that they seemingly came with the goal to spread negative propaganda on social media and like the previous years, make Aurat March a controversy.

“But our spirits are undeterred. Marchers still had fun!”, reminds a representative of Aurat March Lahore amidst all the attacks.

It is time that the journalist community unite against disinformation and malinformation. Above all, there is a need to draw a line between content creation and journalism.

Till then, come what may, March tou har saal hoga!