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Aurat March 2021: Pakistani Feminists Are Out On Streets Demanding Healthcare And More

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Aurat March 2021: Since 2018, the women in Pakistan have been marking International Women’s Day by marching on the streets and asking for equality in a country that has been ranked on the south side of the Gender Gap list.

This year, the Aurat March saw a similar turnout and suspicions of a targeted attack on them.

The COVID-19 pandemic in the past year only made the road to women’s equality tougher as the cases of violence against women skyrocketed in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch reported that domestic violence cases in the country spiked 200 per cent after March last year. The anger among women was much amplified by a recent case in Lahore where a woman was raped and was shamed for the crime that was committed on her.

The feminists organising the Aurat March this year came out with a manifesto demanding to free from the gender-based violence prevalent in the country. They also asked for a better healthcare plan for the women of the country. The march did not just include women but brought together trans and non-binary people at the rally for equality.

In the span of four years, the feminist rally has faced many legal troubles as the conservatives in the country accused them of having propagating ‘western vulgarity’. As people from all walks of life joined the march, they carried placards that said things such as “my body, my choice”, “divorced and happy”, “heat up your own food” and many more things that enraged the religious community of the country. Last year, the rally was attacked by Red Mosque affiliates. Stones were pelted and sticks were charged but the rally is back at its feet this year demanding nothing more but equality.

As part of this year’s manifesto, the organisers have come up with a ‘Feminist Manifesto for Healthcare’ which has demanded the government to chart up a plan of more than 220 million for the healthcare of women, as per a report. The manifesto was presented by the Punjab faction of the Aurat March. They argued the need for access to contraception, support to the survivors of violence and an increase of government spending from one per cent to five per cent of GDP in healthcare. They have also demanded to end the privatisation of healthcare in the country, arguing that it should be the state’s responsibility to provide health coverage.

Other factions of the rally such as Karachi, focused on the harassment and increasing violence against women.

Karachi rally’s volunteer, Moneeza Ahmed said the resistance faced by the Aurat March from other authorities and religious communities is a sign of the divide between the generations in the country. She believes that neither sides have yet won the argument but she said, ” I think it’s really important to strengthen and get our voice out there”.