February 18, 2022
By Xari Jalil & Rehan Piracha
Activists organizing the Aurat March have responded to the statement made by Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Noorul Haq Qadri, expressing disappointment at his request over a basic right.
The letter also drew in strong condemnation from women leaders and activists including People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman and Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador to the United States. Both slammed the minister’s suggestion to ban the women’s day gathering. Hina Pervez Butt, a member of Punjab Assembly, said she had submitted a resolution in the provincial assembly to express concern over the unconstitutional move.
Qadri on Thursday, February 17, urged the government not to allow any organisation or individual to raise “anti-Islam slogans” during Aurat March, which is held by Pakistani women all over the country on the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8.
In a letter that he had written to the Prime Minister, he expressed his disapproval of the women’s day activities and requested that instead the day should be marked ‘International Hijab Day’.
“We are quite disappointed by this request which aims to curtail our fundamental right to assembly that has been guaranteed under Article 16 of the Constitution,” says a statement by the collective. “And all this is based on a complete misunderstanding of the march’s manifesto and our demands. Furthermore, it is extremely irresponsible for a sitting Minister to target marchers who already face multiple threats and attacks each year, putting them further at risk. We find it telling that a Minister who encourages us to focus on real issues like forced marriage and harassment at the workplace has himself voted against a minimum age of marriage bill in 2019, and in 2020 opposed to setting a minimum age for religious conversion. These are issues of women’s agency and forced marriage, that we continue to agitate against.”
The statement concluded that they were confident that this request would not be paid heed, as the current government itself took to the streets when in opposition, and thus should recognise their right to march too.
Qadri also said in his letter that he was against the women’s day march because the activists totally disregarded the problems being faced by Muslims, as their banners, placards and slogans did not match with the local ‘social, political and religious norms’.
Instead, he claimed they maligned Islamic principles meant for women.
Yet the Aurat March collective which has released its manifesto for 2022, rubbishes such allegations.
“We hope that the prime minister would not accept the minister’s suggestions regarding a ban on Aurat March,” Hiba, organising committee, told Voicepk.net.
“The Pakistan Tehrik Insaf government came to power on the basis of the constitutional right of assembly and we hope they won’t bar women and concerned citizens from exercising their right by holding Aurat Marches in the country,” she said.
“The only thing the minister’s letter has done is that it has increased threats of attacks on the Aurat March participants from extremist groups who would now think they have the support of the government,” she said.
In his letter, the religious affairs minister’s asserted that the government should encourage organisers of Aurat March to give their suggestions for resolution of ‘real issues’ facing women like denial of property rights, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, workplace harassment, forced marriages, and education.
“The Aurat March has been holding demonstrations to highlight all real issues women face in the country as mentioned in the minister’s letter,” she said. However, the minister has failed to mention that he had opposed pro-women legislation on child marriages as well as forced conversion, the Aurat March volunteer pointed out. “If the government is doing nothing to resolve these issues what other options women have except protests,” Hiba said.
The 2022 Charter of Demands by Aurat March (AM) banks itself on the year’s theme of “Reimagining Justice” or asal insaaf.
A member of the collective told Voicepk, that the point was to encourage the Pakistani society and the State to reimagine legal, economic and environmental justice but in line with a feminist future.
“We are hoping that there will be a new perspective about justice and what it means; expanding its possibilities beyond the limited terms of system and laws,” she said.
1. Radical, structural reform of the justice system should be undertaken instead of superficial gender representation, such as the mere integration of more women or gender minorities into structurally patriarchal policing and judicial systems.
2. Survivor-centric welfare institutions receive more funding and are strengthened to provide shelter, housing, healthcare, economic and psycho-social services to survivors of patriarchal violence. We reject austerity-based policies which have gutted public health and welfare institutions. Existing laws such as the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 be implemented with the establishment of crisis centres and adequate funding. Further, we demand the government’s Sehat Card cover mental health support and services.
3. Punishments such as the death penalty and chemical castration not be considered as a solution to patriarchal violence as they are not a meaningful deterrent and only serve as short-term solutions to public pressure. We demand a radical shift to preventative policies: education, community building and social welfare should drive the solutions.
4. We demand the immediate decriminalisation of defamation laws as they are a stark reminder of how the criminal justice system is actively anti-survivor.
5. The immediate defunding of “safe city projects”, costing the public billions of Rupees and offering an ineffective and paternalistic vision of safety, and we agitate that those funds be redirected to survivor-support and welfare programs.
6. The state engages in meaningful truth and reconciliation by holding itself accountable for enforced disappearances and providing justice to the affected families.
7. Universal basic income and care work income be provided for all residents of Pakistan to ensure that everyone, regardless of whether they belong to the formal or informal sector or engage in paid or unpaid labour, is provided base-level resources as a right. We agitate for the unpaid labour of women to
be valued as equally important as “paid” labour normally performed by men.
8. That the poor and marginalised not be made to bear the brunt of IMF-driven measures that have resulted in privatisation and unprecedented inflation. These measures are “anti-poor” and serve a vision of economic justice that only benefits global capitalism.
9. Current attacks on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 be strongly resisted by the government in power, and proactive action is taken to ensure implementation of the law at the provincial level.
10. The Government immediately pass appropriate legislation to stop forced conversions. We demand that the State go beyond merely criminalising forced conversions, addressing the social, economic and political power structures that allow for these conversions to take place with impunity.
11. Displacement and migration due to the climate crisis be recognised as a public emergency and the State to provide housing for all as per Article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan. We condemn “developmental” projects such as the RRUDP, hailed by PM Imran Khan, as fundamentally violent towards the economy and indigenous communities that farm and sustain these lands.
12. Immediate measures should be taken to address Lahore’s deteriorating air quality which is making our cities unlivable and poses a public health crisis.