ISLAMABAD-Scores of women on Friday organised Aurat Azadi March in the federal capital to mark the International Women’s Day. Holding placards, raising slogans and singing feminist songs, the women first gathered outside the National Press Club, Islamabad and then marched around the F-6 Markaz, demanding recognition of their physical, mental and emotional labour and healing collectively from the wounds inflicted on them by capitalism, patriarchy, militarism, religious fundamentalism and imperialism, said Tooba Syed of Women Democratic Front, one of the many organisers of the march.

Through their slogans and speeches both before and after the march, the participants demanded an end to violence against women, legislation to protect the rights of women and transgender persons, minimum wage and other legal protection for the informal sector, regularisation of teachers and health workers, end to privatisation of and greater investment in health and education particularly for women, removal of restrictions on student politics and end to curfews in hostels, hostels for women and daycares for the children of working women, construction of low-income housing and  end to campaign against informal settlements, an end to military operations, return of the missing persons and a political solution to Balochistan problems.

They pointed to the recent murder of Afzal Kohistani, the man who had exposed the 2011 ‘honour killing’ of five women for dancing at a wedding ceremony and demanded arrest of his killers, as well as those of all the victims of honour-related crimes.

Representing EVAWG, Benazir Jatoi said that the Aurat Azadi March builds on the past struggles for women’s rights in Pakistan. “We hope this movement grows and inspires women from across the political, social and economic spectrum to realise that feminist mobilisation can have far-reaching impacts, all positive, for not just women, but also men, and our future generations,” she told the crowd. Other prominent speakers were veteran activist Tahira Abdullah, feminist poet and writer Kishwar Naheed, and classical dancer and teacher Indu Mitha. 

They pointed out that women artists, be they singers, dancers, actors, are censured by society and sometimes even attacked and killed for pursuing their dreams.

The Sindhi Aurat Tanzeem strongly condemned the daily violence against women and called upon the state on implement the laws that would protect women from violence of all kinds, whether domestic, in the workplaces, or in the streets. 

Women living in katchi abadis raised the issue of low-income housing in Islamabad and described insecurity under which they raise their families given the state’s lack of commitment to regularisation of informal settlements. 

“We live with a constant fear of having our homes snatched from us to make way for the next big housing project for the rich and losing whatever little stability we have struggled to achieve for our children,” said Kausar Atta who lives in Meherabadi.