Aurat March: Women in Pakistan protest against violence, rape, honour killings

By Francesca Marino

Rome [Italy], Mar 08 (ANI): So, they are marching. They are marching in Lahore and in many other Pakistani cities despite being threatened, abused and harassed on social media and otherwise. They are marching in Lahore holding placards with the picture of the late Asma Jehangir, an icon and the symbol of the fight against human rights abuses in Pakistan. And they are marching shouting the slogan which with any evidence touched a raw nerve for a still patriarchal society: "Mera Jism, Meri Marzi", (my body my choice).

That reminds me of what we were shouting during the seventies in the streets of Italy: "Il corpo e mio e lo gestisco io" (The body is mine, and I'll do what I want with it). Our other slogan was: "Tremble, Tremble, Witches are back". Because, for a patriarchal society, and unfortunately not only for that, an assertive woman is, of course, a witch, a prostitute, a danger for society and for the holy institution of the family.

An assertive, strong, independent woman is a threat for both patriarchal and religious institutions because she does not allow her life and her consciousness to be ruled by priests or mullahs or men. But, unlike us during the seventies, women, and girls of Pakistan, the ones marching and the ones still without a voice, are facing more, much more than being insulted or undermined and that's why they are marching.

Reports, in fact, both national and international, more than reports look like war news. In the 2019 Women, Peace and Security Index, Pakistan ranked 164 out of 167 countries, only above Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, and worst among nine South Asian countries on access to mobile phones, financial inclusion, and discriminatory norms for women.

According to Amnesty International, who released a statement supporting the Aurat March: "Women in Pakistan are consistently deprived of education, justice, health care, political representation, and economic opportunities. They live under the constant threat of violence". And "the threats of violence, intimidation, and harassment being hurled at marchers who are merely demanding their due rights underscores the necessity of the Aurat March". According to the same Amnesty statement: "In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020, Pakistan ranked 151 out of 153 countries, indicating a dismal record on human rights for women. It charts at the very bottom of the seven South Asian countries included in the Index".

Human Rights Watch maintains that "violence against women and girls -- including rape, so-called honour killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage -- remains a serious problem" in Pakistan. Around 12.2 million girls, compared with 10.6 million boys, remain out of school in the country because of poverty compounding challenges related to girls' educational opportunities. Less-educated girls marry young, become mothers at an early age, and often face health challenges throughout their lives.

Women around the country have to face domestic violence, rape, honour killings, being thrown acid at, kidnapping and enforced disappearances. Especially in regions like KPK or Balochistan. "The Baloch women not only have to deal with a regressive society and a regressive state but also with a brutal, repressive state which denies them and the men of their nation of rights which are thought acceptable for others. The fallout of the brutality of the state affects the women even more than it does the men" says Mir Mohammed Talpur, a very well known intellectual.

There have been several cases of women being abducted, detained and tortured, used as sex slaves by military personnel and then thrown away when they were tired of playing with them. However, is difficult to get numbers because, as it always happens in these cases, women feel ashamed and scared and don't want to disclose their misery.

Recently HRW issued a warning over the role of police in sexual violence cases, with officers both committing offences themselves and harassing and intimidating those who made allegations, not only in Balochistan but all over the country.

After the insults and the intimidations, Analyst Marvi Sirmed has been once more insulted live on TV and her private cellphone contacts have been put on social media after they tried to stop the march with Court orders, now many politicians are jumping on the boat of freedom and are congratulating "daughters and sisters" for their determination. It would be enough, more than enough, being sure every day, not only today, that their rights are not violated and their lives are not in danger.

It would be enough to consider women and their bodies as humans and not as properties. But it will take years, many years, and will never go completely. In my country, Italy, according to official data every day 88 women are a victims of violence: one every 15 minutes. In 2019 more than 90 women have been killed. We even invented a word for it 'femminicidio' (femmina means female in Italian, and the word for murder is 'omicidio'): a totally new word to show the amount of violence against women.

Data for 2019 are still partial, but those of 2018 are certain and say that violence against women is still growing. There were 142 victims of 'femminicidio' in 2018, 119 in the family. This tells the annual Eures report: "Femminicidio' and gender-based violence in Italy". Reports of sexual violence, stalking and abuse in the family also increased. It is within the walls of the house that 85 per cent of women are affected more and more often, mainly by their partners.

We are not marching this year because all public gatherings have been stopped because of coronavirus threat but will do it again and again. 'Mera Jism, Meri Marzi'. My body, my choice, my life. (ANI)