A rather convenient answer to the repression of women lies within the length of this one phrase: ‘aisi aurat ke saath to yehi hona chahiye tha’. It is such a skillful shift in narratives, that has been focusing, and continues to focus, on the regulation of women by the advocates of historic patriarchal structures. The consistent use of the aforementioned set of words to any and every injustice then begs the question: are all women the same? To rationalise such prevalent narratives, hence, a rising movement that attempts to trace the lineage of this oppressive culture is cultivated in the face of Aurat March.
In a conservative country like Pakistan, the ability to finally mobilise the masses on 8 March 2018 was a strong feat for activists and organisers, who remained undeterred, even when challenged by unceasing intimidation and threats. The march evolved and expanded over the course of three years, witnessing an influx of varying opinions that a diverse pool of people held on the matter. Evidently, it has been taxing for the Pakistani society to digest the sudden vocalisation of the sheer frustration and disgust spewed at the pre-existing cultures that enable the subjugation of women. One may question why a movement with such an innocent aim is an unwavering hub of controversy. To probe deeper into such suspicions, it is vital to dissect the veil that epitomizes the essence of this movement.
From the article one scrolls by on Instagram, to the billboard news flash they glance at on their way back from school, what people know about the world is encapsulated in the media they consume. The dominance of mediatisation has a profound influence on both the political and the personal domains, holding the capacity to interpenetrate minds. Owing to this phenomenon, the opinions people form on certain matters are conjoined by traditional media and social media. The Aurat March is no foreigner to facing the brunt of such prejudiced media traditions, which galvanise in a multi-faceted fashion. It bears the impacts of biased or censored media coverage of the march and its aims. Additionally, it also has to deal with the pressure of a social media landscape which is dominated by White Liberal Feminism, a movement which all too often ignores the unique issues and patriarchal structures prevalent in South Asian societies.
The Aurat March falls victim to discriminatory reservations about its intentions because the layman is surrounded by information that besmirches the core spirit of the march. Many journalists intentionally capture controversial slogans, direct contentious questions in interviews, make biased cuts in the final piece to portray the march from a very inequitable lens, and finally, make it difficult for the activists to harbour support. Not only do vexed headlines compromise the success of this march, but the US-centric social media also plays a viciously predominant role. Pop culture feminism, heavily holding hegemony over social media, mainly focuses on the issues of a white woman who is free from the rigours of the third world. While the ‘free the nipple movement’ appears to be one of the top agendas of the marches located in the Global North, such ideas are insanely radical and threatening to the religious communities here. Due to such media consumption, what people forget is that the way in which a South Asian woman is oppressed is vastly different from others, and hence, the manifesto (had anyone bothered to read it) pivots its aims in a different direction which is divorced from the ideas of the West. In a country where child marriages are normalised, where domestic violence is at an all-time high, and where honour killings are regarded with grace, the priorities are immensely unique. The plummeting economy births a rut where it is near impossible for the underprivileged women to escape the terrors of a bigoted mindset without the aid of such a march that gives a medium to their muted voices.
However, another major cause of discontent that disincentivizes people to protest on 8th March is the topic of whether or not the slogans should be regulated. Last year, the time leading up to the protest engendered a heated debate on the slogan that read ‘mera jism, meri marzi’. Netizens all across Pakistan questioned whether such posters pollute the actual purpose of the march, or whether radical and naked slogans like these are a necessary measure in the face of skyrocketing extremism and fundamentalism. The argument then becomes, is intersectionality better than peaceful protesting? The answer is simple: the world would be tremendously different had the revolutionaries of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, or the Unification of Germany, not acted in the way that they did. It is vital to understand that the issues which Aurat March strives to combat are systemic issues that have settled and strengthened their foundation over years and years. Overtaking such a system, ultimately, will not wait for ‘organic’ change but requires exposure to the unqualified truth. In fact, many go as far as to say that all representation is necessary because it leads to discourse- one that forces an engaging conversation. Case in point, the slogan ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ became the focal point of dialogue last year, destroying misconceptions surrounding its connotation. Contrary to popular belief, the slogan did not aim at enabling prostitution or giving women the agency to wear whatever clothes they want, but actually traced back its trajectory to bring attention to the need for funding of rape crisis centres in England and Wales. Regardless, the question still remains: is it okay to publicise such placards even if they hold the rhetoric they are perceived to have?
While many questions remained unanswered, one fact is firmly established; the Aurat March requires unity from the people because power lies in numbers. It is important to set aside personal differences, and raise a unified voice for the women who are not privileged enough to partake in the march. Demanding better laws to protect women whilst enforcing existing laws, as well as raising awareness and changing attitudes, are just a few of the necessary measures required to free women from the constant cycle of oppression.
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