Amnesty International welcomes Pakistan’s third annual Aurat March (Women’s March) organized by activists and volunteers and stands in solidarity with everyone participating.
The human rights organization calls on the Government of Pakistan to respect and protect the marchers’ human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, especially in the face of threats of violence and harassment of the organizers and participants.
“Amnesty International unequivocally supports the Aurat March’s calls for equality. Women in Pakistan are consistently deprived of education, justice, health care, political representation and economic opportunities. They live under the constant threat of violence,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
The horrific threats of violence, intimidation and harassment of the marchers must stop. The fact that women are unable to demand their human rights without being put in very real danger underscores just how important the Aurat March is.
In the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020, Pakistan ranked 151 out of 153 countries, indicating a dismal record on human rights for women. It charts at the very bottom of the seven South Asian countries included in the Index.
Mera jism, meri marzi (my body, my choice)
Aurat March has, as in previous years, consistently highlighted multiple issues that prevent women from enjoying their rights to health, education, housing and security and their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
One of the key slogans of the Aurat March is “Mera jism, meri marzi” (my body, my choice), which calls for women and men to have autonomy over what happens to their bodies. This includes sexual and reproductive rights, and freedom from physical abuse, domestic violence and rape, or being subjected to any medical procedure without informed consent.
“Every day, women in Pakistan are bullied, discriminated against and arrested, physically attacked and killed, simply for making choices about their bodies and the way they live their lives. The people who commit these crimes are the ones who must be stopped, not the protestors.”
Authorities must protect marchers
This year, there has been considerable backlash from several quarters and even attempts to block the Aurat March from taking place at all.
On 23 February, a petition was submitted before the Lahore High Court calling for the ban of the Aurat March. This was ultimately unsuccessful, as the Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh ruled such a ban to be unconstitutional.
Following the court’s decision, a religious political party accused the Aurat March of “vulgarity” and called upon its workers to block it and be prepared for “any sacrifice” should the government provide security to the marchers.
Despite the ruling of the court, a mural in Islamabad to commemorate the Aurat March was defaced by men on 3 March. On the same evening, journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed was grotesquely vilified through aggressive, misogynistic and threatening remarks by a panelist on a primetime television show.
“Authorities in Pakistan must immediately take action against anyone trying to intimidate the women leading and participating in the protests. Their security is paramount, and participants have a right to demand their human rights in an environment free from fear,” said Rimmel Mohydin.
In its 2019 annual report on Human Rights in Asia-Pacific, Amnesty International documented that high levels of violence against women and girls continued in Pakistan, including abduction, physical assault, rape and murder. In June, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice announced the establishment of 1,016 courts to hear domestic violence cases.
In June, a 19-year-old transwoman Maya was shot dead by her father in Naushehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least four other transwomen were killed in 2019. Two transwomen were also shot and seriously injured in June in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In September, a court denied Qandeel Baloch’s parents permission to forgive their son for her murder under a 2016 law, which prevents perpetrators from being granted a pardon for crimes committed in exchange for “blood money”. Qandeel Baloch was killed in 2016 by her brother, who said she had brought “dishonour” on their family. Her brother has been sentenced to death.