A planned march by women organizations on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day has stirred a nationwide controversy in Pakistan.
A bold Urdu language slogan Mera Jism Meri Marzi (My body, my choice) designed for the all-female walk has triggered a backlash, not only from right-wing groups but form political parties as well, who describe it “obscene “and against country’s cultural ethos.
A venomous televised debate, earlier this week, between a famous play writer, Khalil Qamar, and a known feminist Marvi Sirmed further fueled the debate, currently dominating the country’s media.
“A handful of women are misleading our daughters in the name of so-called Aurat (women) march”, Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told a gathering in Islamabad.
“By coming out on roads and raising slogans that are not permitted in our culture and religion, values or family does not auger well with women's rights. What kind of power do they [the marchers] want?" she asked.
“We have to see who are these handful of people are busy in misleading the entire nation, especially women, “she added. She argued that the march will eventually harm the women rather than empowering them.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister, and vice president of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League partially agreed with the minister.
“Aurat march’s slogan seems to be inspired by English [western] phrase my body my choice, which has created [wrong] impression instead of its highlighting real issues”, Abbasi told reporters in Karachi on Friday.
“I request the match organizers to check this slogan, and make it acceptable to all in accordance with Pakistan’s culture and societal values”, he said.
However, another opposition party of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has lent its support to the march. It has even condemned opponents of the march harboring “anti-women” agenda.
“The PTI [ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] has proved that it is the latest version of Jamat-e-Islami [country’s mainstream religious party], and is against the women rights”, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar, a spokesman for the party.
He said the government of the southern province of Sindh, where his party rules, would provide full security to the participants of the march.
-Court refused to ban march
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday dismissed a petition seeking a ban on the march. But asked organizers to exercise their constitutional rights in accordance with the law having regard to conduct that is consistent with the norms of decency.
“In our society, various Islamic laws are being seriously violated. The court hopes that the petitioner also approaches the court for the enforcement of all these Islamic laws," the IHC Chief Justice Ather Minallah said in an eight-page judgment.
The ongoing debate is the sequel of a lingering controversy caused by some provocative slogans raised by participants during a similar march last year. Many women holding banners saying, “divorced and happy" and "no uterus no opinion" and many others had invited ire not only from religious circles but from several women rights activists as well.
An elderly participant was caught on camera suggesting disbanding the institution of Nikkah (marriage).
Both right- and left-wing groups have chalked out a heavy but different agenda to mark the event this year.
The main event of the day will be the “Aurat march” under the banner of “my body my choice”, to be held in all major cities including Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore.
“The slogan has been misunderstood and misinterpreted”, Farida Shaheed, one of the organizers told a press conference at Lahore Press Club at the launch of the march’s manifesto on Thursday.
“Demanding bodily rights as a basic human right, regardless of age. It extended to children as well, and was especially important to think of with regards to the widespread incidents of child sexual abuse and murder, all over the country”, she added.
Jamat-e-Islami, for its part, is going to organize a rival women conference in Karachi apart from holding rallies, and seminars across the country.
The party is observing the day as “Women respect day”.
Banners and billboards engraved with demands for a better environment for women at the workplace, transport, health, and education facilities, due right in the family property, and heavy punishment for honor killings, have been put up across the country by the politico-religious party.
“Those handfuls of women carrying the misleading themes do not represent Pakistani women. They have nothing to do with women's rights”, said Durdana Siddiqui, the general secretary of Jamat’s women wing. “Our agenda is very clear. We want to ensure the women’s respect in every field of life in accordance with teachings of Islam, and our cultural values, “she added.