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EDITORIAL: For over a century women around the world have been marking March 8 as a special day, challenging social norms to seek an inclusive and equitable future. This year’s theme announced by the United Nations was “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in Covid-19 World.” For obvious reasons, however, the International Women’s Day was celebrated under different themes in different countries. In Pakistan, where for the last three years Aurat March (women’s march) staged in various cities has become a major platform for giving a voice to gender issue, the rallying crying was “Patriarchy ka Pandemic.” Unlike the first free-for-all event when some of marchers used provocative slogans, attracting criticism even from moderate commentators and threats of violence from conservative elements, it has evolved into a more coherent event. This year, the organisers had prepared a proper manifesto in consultation with different marginalized groups reflecting their concerns. And the march was dedicated to healthcare workers, women’s health, and marginalized transgender people, raising a host of issues that need to be addressed.

Pakistan has come long way from the dark years of Gen Zia ul Haq’s rule that made it a point to keep women down by invoking the cliché “chaader aur char diwari (a women place is behind the veil and four walls of her home)”. A number of regressive laws were brought forth in the name of Islamisation, spurring women to come together and launch a remarkable rights movement. Since the restoration of democracy, several pro-women laws - proposed and supported by female members of Parliament across party lines - have been enacted. But laws alone are not enough to bring about social change. For a considerable period following the end of the Zia’s regime, the women’s movement seemed to have lost much of its vigour. The ‘Aurat March’ has rekindled the same spirit. By highlighting various gender bias issues, the marchers have been generating a necessary debate. Small gestures, like the motorcycle rally that girls and women took out on Sunday in Karachi should also deliver the message that like those across the gender divide, they too need the freedom to be mobile, to be out on the roads without getting harassed.

Nonetheless, as the UN Women Executive Director said while announcing this year’s theme for the International Women’s Day, the only way to bring about real societal change is to incorporate women in decision-making as equals, to the benefit of all. For that women in this country have to struggle hard. Indeed, more and more women are getting representation and also taking leadership positions in professions seen as the male domain not until too long ago. But in the most important decision-making institutions, provincial and national assemblies, barring a few exceptions almost all female members occupy reserved seats, and hence are looked down upon by their male party colleagues. In future, the marchers ought to demand that the political parties give a certain percentage of their tickets to women to contest elections on general seats so they can participate in decision- making processes as equals and help shape government policies reflective of their abilities and needs of all.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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