Three days ago, the women rights movement Aurat March’s Karachi page uploaded a detailed statement on their Twitter account addressing the backlash surrounding the term ‘people with uteruses’. The term was used in a statement announcing a feminist baithak a few days ago, where women and people of other genders were invited to discuss the topic “Mensturation and Misogyny”.
In their statement, Aurat March explained why mensturation has less to do with gender, because it’s a biological process since the uterus, or the womb is the main organ involved in it.
“Mensturation is a biological process, with the uterus or the womb being the main organ involved in it. Needless to say, it has to do with the sex a person is assigned at birth rather than their gender. It only makes sense, then, to call anyone who mensurates a ‘person with uterus’ or ‘mensturator’.”
“This form of criticism revolves around the deeply ingrained, patriarchal belief that a woman’s identity is inherently tied to her uterus, other reproductive organs, and ability to conceive and bear children. It is deeply misogynist, especially in our context, where many CIS women are considered baby making machines and girls are married off at a young age (often even in their teenage) with the belief that they would bear more children, often at the cost of the girl’s health or even life.”
We understand that there hasn't been enough conversation about using the terminology ‘person with uterus' in our context, which is why we think it's imperative that we continue the conversation by writing this statement. We invite everyone to engage in this crucial dialogue. pic.twitter.com/lDiwtR3LUY— Aurat March – عورت مارچ (@AuratMarchKHI) September 26, 2023
In their next post, Aurat March detailed on the misogynist attitude towards periods- and how it affects every person, woman or not.
“Given that the majority of uteruses bleed almost every month for four decades, it is crucial to realize that the misogynist attitudes towards periods affect every person who mensurates- whether woman or not. We use the word misogyny here because the patriarchy views mensuration as inherently feminine thing (and hence, as cause of inferiority); therefore, this misogyny extends also to non-binary and trans-masculine mensurators.”
“The bottom line is that the uteruses of many women, transgender men and non-binary persons (who were assigned female at birth) have been bleeding for centuries and will continue to do so.”
By referring to "people with uteruses" instead of just women when discussing menstruation, we aim to challenge the patriarchal perspective that women exist solely because they have a uterus or because they are available for reproduction.#AuratMarch2023#MenstrualRightsForAll pic.twitter.com/YviEkfzSvP— Aurat March – عورت مارچ (@AuratMarchKHI) September 26, 2023
The statement was slammed by several Twitter users as misogynist towards women, with Youtubers like Muzamil stepping in to label the movement elitist. To get to the bottom of the controversy and how can we craft more spaces for women, and people from the transgender community, to talk openly about their mensuration without facing backlash, we spoke with Aurat March organiser *Rosa.
Q. What inspired you to write this statement, and did you anticipate that there would be such backlash?
Truth be told, we did not expect the response to be this big. Aurat March regularly hosts baithaks where we discuss our politics with the poeple but also amongst ourselves. The use of inclusive and misogyny-aware language is something we’ve been consistently using over the years. Our movement is feminist and takes pride in the fact that we stand for all genders that are suppressed under patriarchy. We think the fact the tweet started with the word “people with uteruses” is what had people read it and have it make rounds.
Q. Given the criticism the post has received, do you feel Aurat March could have worded the statement differently or toned it down?
No. The criticism for a feminist voice in the political space has been there since day one. People criticize us mindlessly for anything that we do. They place an unfair burden of championing every single feminist issue in the country while those same men might not have gotten off their horses of privilege to raise a single finger for the feminist cause. The criticism is bandwagon-ish, misogynistic and transphobic, and it shows how much work we have to do in terms of the discourse around menstruation, the people it impacts, and the trauma of internalized misogyny that women in Pakistan carry. The hate isn’t even necessarily centered around the statement; it’s centered around Aurat March and what it represents.
Q. Several users, including the YouTuber Muzzamil, criticised the post saying its proof that Aurat March is an elitist movement, that doesn’t address the ongoing issues faced by women in Pakistan. Do you feel this perspective is justified?
We think its funny that out of all the people, Muzzamil came out to call the Aurat March an elitist movement while he sits and tweets this from Dubai. There are several tiers of responses as to how the perspective isn’t justified.
The burden to prove whether AM is an elitist movement is not just unfair in the first place, it’s impossible to prove as well. Our marches regularly pulls in more than half of its audience from the working class communities we work with. We go and visit these hidden, impoverished and disenfranchised communities all year round: Zia Colony, Mauripur, Orangi Town, Kausar Niazi, Mehran Town, Race Course, Shikarpur, Surjani, Ibrahim Hyderi, Lyari are only some of the names. We then arrange their transport from their communities to the march as well.
But not just that, all that one has to do see where our priorities lie as a movement is go through our Instagram. For the last month or so, we’ve been working with effectees from Jaranwala, raising voices and protesting for the rehabilitation, protesting at Teen Talwar for recovery of Hindu missing persons while a delegation from our team has been facing harassment and abuse from the police at Jaranwala as we speak.
But of course, men like Muzzamil wouldn’t see the groundwork that Aurat March has done because he’s never visited these places himself, or maybe he doesn’t have binoculars big enough that can help him see all the way from Dubai. The truth is, our politics doesn’t revolve around just creating a feminist discourse or space on twitter, but a lot of people see it that way. They like to think that politics that does not exist beyond this digital space, and we couldn’t care less about these keyboard warriors. The work that we do, impacts the people we work with and it makes a difference in their lives, and that is all that the feminist cause is at the end of the day.
Q. The ongoing backlash surrounding menstruation can have some implications on the mental health of Pakistani women because they don’t feel its safe for them to express their concerns out loud, even on social media. How can we continue to create spaces to openly speak about the issues Pakistani women want to talk about.
We think it’s important to clarify our politics and position in this context. We believe it’s important to see a woman beyond her uterus. In many instances, this “bachadani” holds more value than her life. Her worth is gauged up on her ability to reproduce, her identity is centered around her motherhood, and her final goal is set out to become a mother. So many women lose their lives in forced pregnancies, so many battle uterine cancer and so many see their childhoods end the moment their uteruses start bleeding, married off to a man twice or thrice her age. So of course, when AM tries to separate the woman’s identity from her uterus, people lose their minds.
It’s funny people think ‘people with uterus’ is dehumanizing language when so many people see only a uterus when they look at a woman. To think about how this experience might not be inherent to their existence would then, of course, be thought of as radical. At that same time, it’s important to remember that many women don’t necessarily have a uterus either. Alot of them have their removed due to complications, while many are simply born without one; the language is inclusive of their womanhood and identity, too. All the while, we also acknowledge all the people that menstruate or have uteruses but might not necessarily identify as women either, such transmen or non binary folks. The movement is just as much as for them and by them as it is for any gender.
And understandably so, it becomes difficult for a woman to voice out her concerns regarding her body on social media. When our comments section becomes places of spewing hate or become dominated by men who think they’re invited to share their opinions about women’s bodies, they drown out any chances of having an open engagement and discussion on these topics.