Femsplaining; Why I March?
Time and time again we come across the criticism that Aurat March and the posters paraded there are products of western Feminism holding near to no substance to our society. This is the false perception that has been repeatedly communicated to Pakistani masses. This has given birth to a callous social behavior that makes exploitation of women permissible and normal in our society.
We jump to conclusions when we easily pin the blame for slogans such as ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ on Western propaganda. But we refuse to bat a single eye when underage girls are stripped of their right to bodily autonomy. The premise of the argument does not lay solely in this chant but this chant has become a symbol that puts into perspective our inane disregard, to broaden our mindset. Those who criticize the slogan must keep in mind that the civilizational journey for human rights started with acceptance of Latin word habeas corpus meaning that you have a body.
Is there really no place for feminism in Pakistan? Gist of the argument lay in the word itself where “fem” becomes directly correlated to women in anti-male domain. This heavy sentiment that feminism is a debauched ideology is where the problem begins. As Pakistan stands among the bottom three countries in the world regarding the status of women, it is in no way acceptable nor is it our position to badmouth emerging feminism when we need it the most. We fail our women when nearly 12 million girls are out of school in Pakistan. The Punjab Unified Communication and Response (PUCAR-15) reported 13,478 calls reporting domestic violence in Lahore alone between January of 2020 to May of 2020. we fail our women every time we silence their voice under the male gaze because their idea of morality surpasses the protection of bodily integrity and autonomy that our women plead for.
On 9th September 2020, we saw the motorway incident, we saw an outcry for the dire need to protect our women, and we saw a prime example of all that is wrong with our societal teachings. Above all, we saw not the masses but even our police, the ones given the task to protect us, took part in victim blaming culture. This was not only a setback for this case alone but the victim blaming we see publically affects each and everyone who is able to hear word of it. This would set us back in numerous victims refusing to come forward with their stories, multiple heinous crimes would go unreported and institutions developed to safeguard us would continue their cycle of failing us. It is easy for someone who has been desensitized to our societal issues to hold disbelief in these slogan. It is not easy for a victim to be shunned out because we refuse to believe there to be a need for feminism.
A common belief is that if our government has taken measures to ensure the protection of women, we have laws that allow women to report and institutions that handle the situation as need be; why would there be a need for this movement? But it is not as simple as having a law; our nation is one that lets its culture overshadow legal implications. This is the culture that we need to dismantle for women to feel secure enough to think about reaching out for help, to feel confident in institutions to listen to their plight. Our media is quick to take the side of the new laws we pass, we take pride in having something in written form so we can gain publicity on how well we are working for our women. However, the moment it comes to “honour” or legal repercussions, the latter is never the winner. Movements such as Aurat Azadi March are platforms that instill confidence in our young women; it gives them space to feel empowered and to let out their side.
Our society faces no problem in attaching negative ideas to ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’. It was easy for them to create a whole Haya March against it because why would a slogan that demands right to govern our own bodies mean anything more to men than how we dress. ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ stands against the victim blaming, it stands against the 13 years old Christian girl abducted and married to a 44 year old man, it stands for Saba the 30 year old woman tortured to death by her in-laws in Gujjarpura on February 3rd for being unable to give birth to a baby boy, and it stands for Zahra a seven years old domestic worker tortured to death by her employers in Rawalpindi in June of 2020. This is the interpretation of ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ that we continue to stand for.
There is a long way to go before we take apart sentiments from the issue. It is a sensitive topic that gets easily debunked, for many as a result of their cultural misconceptions. Therefore, we must continue to stand our ground and educate our masses to reverse our desensitization. Feminism is not an enemy of men, Aurat March is not a product of the West, but rather these are reactions and demands for justice due to the perpetual inequalities faced by girls and women here for decades. Our concern is far greater than an amalgamation of handpicked posters by the media platforms that are well aware of the demographics they target to create controversy.
I recognize the progress made but I march for a future where women do not have to explain why they march.