This was the third one.

During the first two marches, I was in Lahore. I did not attend either of them. Nor did most of my friends. The few who did, I asked them why they bothered. Don’t judge me yet. Let me write, hear me out.

I was fully aware of the sad (I am inclined to use a much harsher word here) plight of women in our honorable and pure country. I was fully aware of forced marriages, acid attacks, karo kari, marital rapes, abuse and… well, countless other crimes. I was aware that only 7% of the women in our country have access to financial services. I was aware that 20% of global honor killings happen in Pakistan. I was aware that almost 50% of married women experience sexual violence. And above all, I was aware that Pakistan was the 3rd worst country to be a woman in.

Why did I not attend the march then?

I never thought that the march would have any impact. I expected it to go unnoticed by the masses. I thought it would be forgotten to the annals of history. Just like we forgot about the Hazara community, the Shia community, the Ismaili community – why would we remember this one?

I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

This year’s Aurat March has already achieved more than what other marches/protests have ever achieved, including the ones which have had containers at the center. It has ignited a conversation. The allegations, the memes, the so-called anti-cultural slogans have sparked a debate. And that debate has entered family WhatsApp groups. For once, rather than posting supernatural cures to corona virus, people are posting anti- Aurat March and derogatory jokes in WhatsApp groups. Then someone, usually a relatively younger fellow, responds. This younger fellow cites facts and figures and explains the concept and context underlying each of the slogans.

This younger fellow, who is often no more than 25, educates his fellow family members – in as much a respectful tone as is possible – that “mera jism meri marzi” does not mean we are fighting for legalizing nudity. This fellow tells his elders that this slogan is supposed to help the women who are forced to go through pain of pregnancies again and again – just so the husband can have a son (or multiple sons). This fellow just stops short of referring to the plight of his own mother. The fellow wants to draw the link, wants to state the obvious. S/he wants to explicitly ask her/his parents if having a family of 7 was his/her mother’s own choice – or was she forced to conceive again, and again, and again, because it was the father who wanted a son.

If this young fellow is a boy and has a sister, he might be particularly inclined to explain the symbolism behind “apna khana khud garam kr lo”. He might try to explain to his elders that this slogan is derived from the appalling case of two sisters who were killed by their brother because the innocent girls refused to serve food to him. He has to explain. He has to stand up for those 2 girls. Or else, how will he look his own sister in the eye? If he does not march, how will his sister feel secure around him?

The march this year was successful, and it will have far reaching impact. Those who promised to be protectors of women and then hurled abuses and pelted stones on them, failed. Jinnah won today.

And Jinnah will win every day. We cannot afford to let him down. Because if we do, our children will live in a world far worse than the one Zainab lived in.