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EDITORIAL: As March 8, International Women’s Day (today is the International Mother’s Day), draws near Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri wants the government rather than women to decide how it should be celebrated. He has written a letter to the Prime Minister requesting that it be declared “International Hijab Day” even though the UN proclaimed theme is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” In any event, it surely is not the business of any government to tell women and girls to wear or not to wear hijab. It is for them to decide either way, as simple as that.

The real reason behind the letter seems to be a problem he has with the Aurat March on which he dealt at length, saying among other things, that “no one should be allowed to question or ridicule Islamic values, norms of society, hijab, or modesty of Muslim women at the ‘Aurat March’ or any other event held in connection with International Women’s Day as these acts hurt the sentiments of Muslims in the country”, thereby suggesting a ban on the march.

First of all, he should know that women constitute more than half of this country’s Muslim population, and hence cannot ridicule Islamic values. Second of all, in this patriarchal society the standards of social norms and modesty of women have been set by men to control and subjugate women.

As expected, the letter drew a swift and sharp reaction on social media from different quarters. Reminding him that Women’s Day is dedicated to creating awareness in society regarding gender stereotypes and discrimination against women, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman called out the minister for “conspiring to deprive unarmed women of their freedom and rights on International Women’s Day.”

She went on to add: “on the one hand, we condemn India’s attitude [for slapping a ban on hijab], but on the other you talk about banning a women’s march.” Former ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi expressed her disappointment over the letter in this tweet: “unbelievable.

And unfortunate. Noorul Haq Qadri asks the PM Imran Khan to ban Aurat March.” Later in the day, the minister issued what was supposed to be a clarification but turned out to be a reiteration of the same as he averred “obscenity and hooliganism in the name of rights should not be allowed under any circumstances”.

Arguably, obscenity is a relative term. It is a bit of a stretch, however, to describe unwelcome slogans as hooliganism. He also said that the contents of the letter “reflected the collective thinking of the Pakistani society.” This merits the question, how has he determined the collective thinking of this society?

That said, it needs to be recognised that some of the slogans raised in the previous ‘Aurat marches’ such as ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ (my body, my way) and some others in a similar vein, neither sit well with local sensitivities nor have any relevance to a society where a vast majority of girls and women are not allowed to make even such life changing decisions as going to school or work, and whom to marry.

The purpose of the ‘Aurat March’ should be reaching out to women as well as men to generate awareness about gender equality. Women’s sexuality slogans raise their own disquiet, as they tend to instantly alienate people who otherwise sympathise with the cause. Organisers of this year’s march would be well-advised to review ‘anything and everything goes’ policy and ensure a great movement for women rights is not dragged down by a few individuals going off on a tangent.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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