Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which is celebrated worldwide. In Pakistan, many events are organised to mark Women’s Day. Aurat March, which has been held since 2018, will be marked with rallies in several cities, including Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.
This year, Aurat March Lahore’s theme is women’s health and the issues faced by women and gender minorities. They are demanding that the health budget be increased to 5 per cent of the GDP. Aurat March organisers have highlighted how violence has always existed for women and gender minorities in Pakistan since before COVID-19 but the lockdowns and social isolation resulting from the pandemic have further exacerbated physical, emotional and sexual violence against them across the country.
It is quite unfortunate that Pakistan ranks 151 out of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020 index, published by the World Economic Forum. The only two countries lagging behind Pakistan are Iraq and Yemen. This is not a surprise given the way our patriarchal society treats women. From blaming rape survivors to practices such as honour killing, vinni and swara (exchange of women, especially young girls, to settle disputes between families), child marriage, domestic violence and many other such anti-women practices, Pakistani society does not make life easy for women.
Sexual harassment cases when reported or talked about are brushed under the carpet. We have seen how women don’t just face offline harassment and violence but online harassment of women has increased manifold. It is but a manifestation of the anti-women bias in society. Women politicians, journalists and activists are targeted online on a regular basis. But it is good to see Pakistani women breaking these chains and raising their voices for women empowerment and their rights.
From leading lights such as Fatima Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Malala and many others who paved the way for women and young girls in our society, the struggle continues. It will take a long time to achieve equal rights for women but there is no reason to lose hope. We have seen that when women take a stand, it leads to the betterment of society at large.
For an inclusive, tolerant and progressive Pakistan, women have to be treated as equal human beings. Women of the world, unite, for you have nothing to lose but your chains.