It’s hard for me to accurately describe just how much I enjoyed being a part of the Aurat March in Islamabad last Sunday. In the build-up to the very day, I loved the conversations the March stirred on social media, I loved that the #Auratmarch hashtag trended on Twitter for an entire week, and it suffused me with hope to see it all culminate in an experience that was refreshing, empowering and amazing.

I have two sisters and the mantra in my house is “Never be afraid to speak up for yourself”. In so many ways, the Aurat March was about speaking up. Not only for ourselves but also for our non-biological sisters who are told not to speak up and made to suffer in silence.

My sisters and I went to the March with our parents and we certainly were not the only ones who had arrived with all family members. It felt wonderful to see fathers, husbands, brothers and friends marching alongside the women in their lives.

Being at the Aurat March on the International Working Women’s Day made me feel a number of positive things. The diversity of people marching in unison and chanting slogans of empowerment imbued a sort of pleasantly contagious energy among all. The attendance of people from different walks of life illustrated the march’s broad acceptability for those who wished to raise their voice against oppressive power structures. This was a fight not against men but against a system that enables one group to enjoy privileges at the expense of another.

As I say this, I feel the need to also highlight the political aspect of the March, which has been a part of Twitter debate lately. It is important to understand that feminist movements, historically, have sprang from left-wing politics and the understanding that the forces of free market value a man’s work over a woman’s. Hence, the struggle for equality and an egalitarian society is, in essence, a socialist project that aims to do away with the exploitative structures of capitalism. In light of that, the Aurat March organisers of Islamabad, this year, made a decision to hold the March under the ambit of Awami Workers Party; the biggest socialist political party of Pakistan.

Several supporters later expressed disagreement with this combination of gender and politics saying that it took away from the women-centeredness of the event. Others responded that feminism has never been an apolitical affair, that demands for an end to patriarchal violence, economic inequality and social oppression all arise from leftist political ideology. With that, I concur.

Arguably, the most creative and worth-remembering part of the march was the thought-provoking wordplay on the placards. Mera jism meri marzi, being the central theme of this year’s march, reigned supreme as individuals came up with a variety of interesting slogans to bring attention to matters of bodily agency. Delving further into the theme of mera jism meri marzi, choosing it seems all the more relevant when we consider the impact of the MeToo movement. As emboldened women across the world are saying ‘time’s up’ to sexual harassment, MeToo is taking public discourse to places it has never been before. It has ushered in a new wave of awareness, legislation and discussion on matters relating to the body, not the least of which is the right to have an abortion. Similarly, the new wave is seeking to normalise conversation around the taboo subject of women’s reproductive health and menstruation.

Attending the Aurat March in Islamabad and later seeing the images from all three marches, in the papers, on social media and on television channels, instilled in me a sense of confidence in the collective power of women to bring about a gender revolution. The March in the capital concluded with the tragic episode of stone pelting and brick-throwing the religious fanatics, which injured several people. As terrible as that was, it was not unexpected considering the formal threat sent out by JUI-F leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, against the March. Nevertheless, despite the backlash, hate and attempts to dismantle the March, the spirits of the participants remained high. In fact, the outrage from certain quarters only served to embolden the organisers and the vociferous campaigners for women’s rights. It merits mention here that without the legwork of activists including Tooba Syed, Zoya Rehman and Ismat Shahjahan from Awami Worker’s party, the event in Islamabad would not have been possible.

The Aurat March last week was by all accounts, an ode to all women whose strength and unrecognised hard work is the driving force of this country.