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"It's Our Day, Our Time": Women Rally In Pakistan Despite Legal Challenges

"It's Our Day, Our Time": Women Rally In Pakistan Despite Legal Challenges

Known as the Aurat (women) March, the rallies have courted controversy because of banners and placards waved by participants that raise subjects such as divorce, sexual harassment and menstruation.
Thousands of women took part in rallies across Pakistan today despite efforts by authorities in several cities to block the divisive marches.

Known as the Aurat (women) March, the rallies have courted controversy because of banners and placards waved by participants that raise subjects such as divorce, sexual harassment and menstruation.

Each year some of the most provocative banners ignite weeks of outrage and a slew of violent threats.

"The whole point of the Aurat March is to demand the security and safety that women are not afforded in this country and society," said Rabail Akhtar, a schoolteacher who joined a crowd of around 2,000 in Lahore on Wednesday, which was also International Women's Day.

"We are not going to sit silently anymore. It's our day, it's our time."

City authorities had at the weekend refused to provide security, despite allowing a "modesty" counter-march to go ahead, forcing Aurat organisers to take them to court.

Judges ordered officials to back down, with the two sides settling on a different venue.

"It's ridiculous how we have to go through the same drama every year... Why are they so afraid of women demanding their rights?" asked Soheila Afzal, a graphic designer.

In Karachi, judges dismissed a legal challenge by an individual to ban a related rally scheduled for the weekend so that working women can attend.

In the capital Islamabad, organisers have refused to comply with orders to confine the gathering to a city park where a woman was gang raped in February.

Hundreds gathered outside the city's press club but were penned in by shipping containers and police who stopped them from marching.

Many held banners in support of Afghan women across the border who have had their rights stripped away by the Taliban government.

"Women used to be quiet, but now we have women on roads talking about their rights and justice, and I think that is the change they were looking for," said 24-year-old Aisha Masood.

The Aurat March is seen by critics as supporting elitist and Western cultural values in the Muslim country, with organisers accused of disrespecting religious and cultural sensitivities.

In 2020, groups of hardline Islamist men turned up in vans and hurled stones at women participating in the Aurat March in Islamabad.

Much of Pakistani society operates under a strict code of "honour", systemising the oppression of women in matters such as the right to choose who to marry, reproductive rights and even the right to an education.

Hundreds of women are killed by men in Pakistan every year for allegedly breaching this code.
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