A large number of Pakistani women will take to the streets across the country on March 8, 2020 to celebrate the International Women’s Day.
They will celebrate their successes, highlight the social, economic, cultural and political problems and issues that women are facing, and pay tribute to the great leaders of the women’s rights movement.
They will march against exploitation, discrimination, domestic violence and sexual abuse. They will march for equal political, social and economic rights, better education, health and employment.
Some religious groups and religio-political parties have threatened to forcefully stop one of the March 8 marches, the Aurat March, this year on the basis of couple of placards and slogans raised last year.
Some lawyers even approached the higher courts to stop the march from taking place. A well organised campaign was launched to harass and intimidate the organisers of the march in different cities.
Why are religious conservatives and even some liberal traditional male chauvinists opposing the women’s march? Because they consider the slogans that the women chant, demanding their legal and constitutional rights, a threat to the male dominated culture and structure in place. The demands of equal status and rights are seen as a threat to the power and privilege of men.
Pakistan is a patriarchal society. A patriarchal society consists of a male-dominated power structure throughout society and in individual relationships. In a patriarchal society, men hold positions of power and have more privilege as the heads of the family, leaders of political parties and social movements, owners and managers at the workplace, and heads of government.
The women’s rights movement is seen as a challenge to this patriarchy. The religious right and male chauvinists with big egos use religion, morality and conservative traditions and stereotypes to suppress the women’s rights movement. They want to retain reactionary feudal and tribal traditions in the name of religion and morality.
They have already launched a malicious campaign on mainstream and social media to discredit the Aurat March. Mainstream media is also diverting attention away from the real issues faced by the Pakistani women. They are more concerned about their presence on the streets and their appearance.
It is not a matter of concern for them that sexual crimes against young girls are rising. Horrifying stories of brutal rapes and murders are appearing in the media on a daily basis.
Despite introduction of several laws to protect women from domestic violence and abuse, women continue to be subjected to violence and abuse. These laws are not properly enforced.
It is not a matter of concern for them that Pakistan is the third worst country in the world as far as gender gap and inequality are concerned. Pakistan ranked 151 in a list of 153 countries on the gender gap index of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Only Iraq and Yemen are behind Pakistan.
Pakistan is placed at 150 in economic participation and opportunity, 143 in educational attainment, 149 in health and survival, and 93 in political empowerment.
It is not a matter of concern for them that Pakistan is even ranked lowest in South Asia. Bangladesh ranked 50, followed by Nepal at 101, Sri Lanka at 102, India at 112, Maldives at 123 and Bhutan at 131.
The WEF report highlights that economic opportunities for women in Pakistan are limited with the country only managing to bridge 32.7 percent of the gap between men and women at the workplace. In health and survival, the gap widened to 94.6 percent, which means that women in the country do not have the same access to healthcare as men.
The gender wage gap is still high in Pakistan. Women workers get 20-35 percent less wage for the same work as compared to male workers.
Pakistan can add 33 percent to its current GDP just to increase women’s participation in the work force. Currently, 26 percent of our labour force consists of women; this needs to increase to 45 percent. Along with some other key economic reforms, the women’s workforce could transform Pakistan from a low-income country to an upper middle country in the next 27 years.
Pakistan’s women need to get organised and march to increase access to education, reproductive health services as half of our women have not attended school.
Pakistan needs its women to enter the workforce and thrive in public and economic life. Investment in human capital, gender sensitive policies and transforming social norms and economic system can change the status of women’s economic participation and put the country in the direction of growth and prosperity.
Conservative mindsets and feudal and tribal traditions are a big obstacle in the economic and social empowerment of the poor working class and sections of middle class women. These traditions and honour codes will not go away without a struggle and fight back.
Young educated women are challenging these stereotypes. This struggle is not against men but against the economic and social system and structure. Shackles need to be broken to empower women to contribute to national development as equal citizens.
Let’s march together to celebrate past achievements and victories. Let’s march to further the struggle for equal rights and opportunities. More power to our young women activists.Khalid Bhatti, "March for women’s rights," The News. 2020-03-07.
Keywords: Law and humanity , Women's march , National development , Social system , Economic system , Social empowerment , Religious rights , Social norms , Economic norms , Economic opportunities , Political empowerment , Economic forum , Aurat march , Social media , GDP , WEF