Pakistan has been in the headlines for numerous reasons over the past few years, and most of the news has been quite distressing. However, one recent event has brought a glimmer of hope and shone a spotlight on a crucial issue. The Aurat March, an annual event, took place on March 8th, 2021, which is International Women’s Day, across several cities in Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.
The Aurat March is a women-led event that aims to amplify the voices of women and other marginalized genders and raise awareness of the challenges they face in Pakistan. The event is organized by a coalition of feminist activists, human rights defenders, academics, and other progressive individuals, who work tirelessly to raise awareness of the issues and challenges faced by women in Pakistan.
This year, the Aurat March attracted more attention than ever before, primarily because of a controversial placard that went viral on social media. The placard read, “Mera jism, meri marzi,” which translates to “My body, my choice.” The message was simple yet powerful, and it resonated with many women who have been fighting for their rights to autonomy, bodily integrity, and freedom of choice.
However, the placard was not well-received by some conservative quarters in Pakistan, who saw it as a threat to traditional values and culture. They criticized the Aurat March and labeled it as a Western-inspired movement that promotes obscenity and vulgarity.
In response to this backlash, the Aurat March organizers came up with an innovative idea to showcase the reality of street sexual harassment faced by women in Pakistan. They installed an artwork titled “Pawri ho rahi hai,” which means “the party is happening.” The artwork features a wall with catcalls that women often hear on the streets of Pakistan, such as “Hey, beautiful,” “Smile, please,” “Kitni sundar lag rahi hai,” which translates to “You look so beautiful.”
The catcalls were recorded by the organizers and played on loop as a form of art installation. The idea behind the installation was to show how street harassment is not a compliment, but it is a form of violence that intrudes upon a woman’s right to exist and move freely in public spaces.
The installation was a powerful statement that struck a chord with many women in Pakistan who have been subjected to catcalling, stalking, and other forms of harassment in public spaces. It also drew attention to the fact that street harassment is prevalent in Pakistan, and women rarely report it due to cultural norms that discourage them from speaking out.
Many women who attended the Aurat March and saw the installation shared their experiences of street harassment and how it has affected their lives. One woman said, “I have experienced street harassment countless times, and it has made me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and unwelcome in public spaces. It is time to end this culture of harassment and reclaim our right to exist and move freely in Pakistan.”
The “Pawri ho rahi hai” installation sparked a conversation about the urgent need to address street harassment in Pakistan and the importance of creating safe and inclusive public spaces for women. Several human rights organizations and activists also joined the conversation and expressed their solidarity with the Aurat March organizers.
However, the installation also faced criticism from some conservative sections of society who saw it as a promotion of obscenity and vulgarity. The criticism highlighted the deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes that continue to stifle women’s voices and rights in Pakistan.
Overall, the Aurat March and the “Pawri ho rahi hai” installation were important events that raised awareness of the challenges faced by women in Pakistan and the urgent need to create a more equitable and just society. It also demonstrated the power of art in promoting social change and driving conversations about sensitive and controversial issues.
In conclusion, the Aurat March is a crucial event that provides a platform for women to share their stories, raise their voices, and demand their rights. The “Pawri ho rahi hai” installation was a creative and powerful way to highlight the issue of street harassment in Pakistan and draw attention to the urgent need to create safe public spaces for women. We hope that this event sparks further conversations and actions to create a more inclusive and just society in Pakistan.