Shehzil Malik, a Pakistani feminist, artist and illustrator, designed this poster for the Aurat March 2019.

Aurat March 2019 was held on 8th March 2019 in the major cities of Pakistan, including Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, and Quetta, to mark International Women’s Day 2019 in the country. Women from all walks of life joined the March – lawyers, doctors, students, activists, housewives, children, and even men.

Aurat March 2019 in Pakistan on International Women's Day
Aurat March 2019 Manifesto (demands)

With the feminist consciousness pervading the 21st century, Pakistani women did not lag behind in celebrating their womanhood and demanding an end to the patriarchal norms limiting their opportunities with slogans like “Behanchaara aur Yakjehti” (Sisterhood and Unity), “Hum Auratein” (Us Women), etc.

The Aurat March included a manifesto demanding safe spaces for women and putting an end to violence. It also put forward the demands for economic, environmental and reproductive justice for women. The aim of the March was to raise awareness on the issues regarding women, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, assault, and oppressive patriarchal attitudes.

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Women and children on a bike rally in Karachi

Women and children conducted bike rallies in the streets to “reclaim their right to public spaces.” This really emphasized and highlighted the issue of women traveling in public spaces. Bikes, cycles, and Scootys are overall considered unsafe for women in the streets. This very act sent out a strong message to normalize this taboo attached to women cycling or biking.

There was an eminent zeal in different institutions, students, and forums to bring forward their own slogans highlighting the issues. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter were thronged by the preparations for the march, including posts, photos, and stories.

Here are some interesting slogans from the march held in different cities. “Ao Khana Sath Banayen” caters to the much-mocked “Apna Khana Khud Garm Kro” slogan of last year. Other posters also highlight sexual assaults and rape cases of girl child Zainab, Kasuri children, etc. Many men thronged these Marches. Some came to observe and watch, while others supported women by holding up slogans and participating in the event.

The idea of feminism and patriarchy is a much-debated issue in Pakistan, not just globally. It has certainly mocked women’s struggles, gaining criticism from men and women alike. Some even felt that the idea of the March was misused with some of the slogans that were seen.

A globally prevalent criticism was, especially by men, on why International Men’s Day was not celebrated with such zeal, or whether there was any such day too. In response to memes and tweets mocking IWD and Aurat March in this light, here’s one of the memes that went viral.

Aurat March 2019 in Pakistan on International Women's Day

Some even brought religion into their debates and slogans to back up their reason for this March.

While some others used religion to discredit the whole idea of the march.

Women struggle with taboos, age-old “traditions”, oppressive systems and even sometimes the basic right for education. There is a need to create awareness among the masses for a better attitude towards women. Not limiting women to domestic chores, recognizing their talents and letting them out in safe public spheres without any taboo attached was the spirit of the march.