What’s this fervour against Aurat March?

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Let there be a real Mard March

The month of March in Pakistan had never seen such celebration or deliberation for a counter/narrative warfare. The social processions in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Gilgit-Baltistan and Mardan on March 8, marking the International Women’s Day, were seen by many women as their day of solidarity and celebration. On social media platforms too, #WhyIMarch was making its rounds at the onset of the month. The sheer volume of which increased this year, and is perhaps the reason why it struck a nerve amongst many.

The biased, like those we cross paths with every day, labelled the placards extremely inconsequential, vulgar, and against the values held in this society. Some even went on to say that the whole movement was the elitist agenda of a privileged class and alienated the real from the insignificant.

To belittle experiences of one from another is a destructive idea that targets the foundations on which a society is able to sustain itself. As a humanist, I advocate that more female voices be incorporated in popular discourse. The least the society could do is to lend an ear to the grievances faced by a section of society.

Breaking down the movement, it was attended by hordes of women from different walks of life. All contributing to the multi-layered society that we live in. Each city’s march was differently painting the same demands; social inclusion, more opportunities, safety, freedom in being. If you look at it under these broad categories, no matter the expression, it doesn’t seem at all wrong, does it? To demand incorporation in conversations and spaces, to demand a safer place to live in, an opportunity to excel at something, and be able to choose, are the simplest of rights– the ones which aren’t being properly given in this country. I add the word properly here because to say that these don’t exist would be wrong; however, properly here describes that while laws for these exist and are the practice in even fewer urban ghettos, there needs to be more work on the implementation. And for this implementation women march so they can provide guidance on exactly on how this can be done.

The essence of these marches is even farther from this. It talks about constructed norms that directly hit the very being of women in this society without much liberation. It talks about empathy not being targeted at the victim of the abuse, but steps being taken against the abuser and moving forward with punishing the very behaviour that allows the abuser a breathing space. Here the two terms liberation and abuser can mean a myriad of things– from a myriad of perspectives. For the female workers, it was about liberation from below-average workers’ pay and the abuse that most women come across at their workplace on a daily basis. It was about liberation from the confines of society where women have little or no agency. For transwomen it was a liberation from the construct that isolates them from earning a better living for themselves.

For all women, these movements are an expression, a counter-narrative to how the society puts them in a box and fails to view them outside of it.

Placards such as Apna Khana Khud Garam Karo or Mujhe kya Maloom Tumhara Moza Kahan Hai are interpretations of the burden that women feel in their domestic lives– a function that they have to fulfil, without much respite. Personally, I was glad to see few of these placards made their rounds, these included Kami Sid’s Khana Garam Kardungi, Bistar Khud Garam Karo which can be interpreted in a number of ways from forced prostitution to marital rape and the women’s choice of simply saying no. My body is not your battleground calls for reproductive rights and is an ode to the many silenced victims of abuse. Beti dil main, beti will main is a call for incorporation of women in inheritance laws. Never had Manto been so relevant than at this march. My personal favourite was how a biased parallel was drawn between a liberated (read:oppressed) woman and one who aspires to be one, in, Hum ne tawaif k ilawa kisi aurat ko khud mukhtaar nahin dekha, iss liye humain har khudmukhtaar aurat tawaif lagti hai. Without an understanding of these placards, and the grievances that they highlight one cannot go on and think of being a functional member of this society.

If we are to build a society that is empathetic, we need to hear, understand and incorporate people’s concerns. And this goes both ways

However, many didn’t. And the backlash that these marches have received, goes to show how illogically intolerant our society is. What’s worse is how women of influence have also shunned these as ‘outside the realm of cultural values’. A culture that appreciates those women who stay in toxic marriages, who suppress their desires, who labour same hours as men for even lesser wages, who have no access to medical care or education, who face physical and emotional abuse in how they choose to live, who can’t determine the course of their lives or their family size.

The ludicrousness of the situation is exemplified by how the Mard March or the thousands of reactionary posts against the Aurat March placards are not at par with each other. Men have posted things like Apna Puncture Khud Lagao, or Apnay Jinazay Khud Parhao which can’t be compared to Apna Khana Khud Garam Karo or the likes because the employed roles can’t be compared to those that are socially constructed. Which is all the more reason why these processions are so important. Perhaps these men could have called that there be more women in jobs or roles which have been traditionally ascribed to men such as coal mining, transportation or sewerage cleaning. This could have opened more room for debate. A social media account published some pictures from the mard in our society holding placards of what they deemed was expected of them.

Only Ladies First, Gents First Kab Ayega? had some logic to it. As Muhammad Hanif has called out the thakka hara mard in his satirical piece in Hum Sub, perhaps after a long day at work, and finding their socks, these men could also highlight the many issues they face. Perhaps the Mard March would not just be a reaction to the Aurat March, but talk about their side of the story.

Countless times I have heard stories and been a witness to the workplace harassment that men face. The number of indecent jokes that they have to nod to with a smile, just because men are expected to ‘take things like a man’. The number of times men had to become engineers as women had to become doctors. How they are expected to get better paying jobs soon after graduation to be able to get a better spouse for themselves. How from an early age they were taught to be independent. How men are expected to be more masculine and less emotional. Now I am no man, but these are some of the legitimate concerns that could open a room for discussion on what it means to be a man and how they could be viewed differently.

If we are to build a society that is empathetic, we need to hear, understand and incorporate people’s concerns. And this goes both ways.

So to all men who want a Mard March, you are by all means expected to, but make it a movement that shows your concerns of your being, not as a reaction to the Aurat March.