Frere Hall was engulfed with a tangerine cloud as hundreds of women, gender non-binary people and trans members of the society clad in the vibrant shade gathered at the lawns to commemorate International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8 in Karachi. Their aim wasn’t to gossip and have idle chat, but to put forward their demands for a balanced Pakistani society that should treat women as an equally important citizen as men.
Titled ‘Hum Aurtein,’ the purpose of the Women’s Day event was challenging the misogyny prevalent in our lives; whether it is home, workplaces or in the streets. Women want to claim their right to the city with economic, reproductive, health and environmental justice, more avenues for women’s political participation and an end to violence.
Women stood in solidarity and raised slogans against oppression and violence while many men accompanied them. There were many interesting demands written on the charts brought by the participants of the march. While some expressed through creative slogans, others unabashedly shamed the double standards of our society.
Talking exclusively to Something Haute, classical dancer and social activist Sheema Kirmani said that the women were there to demand basic human rights.
“We are demanding all basic human rights which include social, cultural and political rights – to express yourself, to move with freedom, to make choice about your own life, to make decisions in your life about your marriage and your children – and we will make sure we have those rights and the respect that we deserve,” she said.
The event kicked off with a performance by Sheema Kirmani and other activists as they sang a qawwali which said, “Tu Khud ko badal, tu Khud ko badal… tab hi tou zamana badley gha” followed by speeches by the students of SMB Fatima Jinnah School. One of the highlights was Sindhi poetry narrated as an ode to women and their struggles. There were frequent chants and slogans crooned by the organizers which received overwhelming response from the participants of the rally.
Many celebrities from the entertainment industry – men and women – stepped up to attend the event and speak against patriarchy namely Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Adnan Malik, while Mahira Khan’s support was evident from her Twitter feed.
— Mahira Khan (@TheMahiraKhan) March 8, 2019
Special Olympics gold medalist Rehana, along with two other special ladies also addressed to the audience. The inclusive event also featured two Hindu vendors – Premi and Laxmi – who are the victims of the recent anti-encroachment drive by the government.
“Our ancestors have been selling at the Empress Market for the last 70 years. We are a group of 70 women whose livelihood was snatched with one order from the higher authorities. We are not given any alternative place to sit or do business,” said the two women.
Next were women from the Christian community who put forward their plight. Highlighting the significant role of their community in the development of Pakistan, they demanded a legislation to end discriminatory behavior with the minorities, especially forced conversion and marriages.
“Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls are forced to convert in teens and then get hitched. The law of Pakistan prohibits marriage before a girl turns 18; however this is a common practice here. Not only that but these girls are not even allowed to meet their mothers and sisters,” said one activist.