“Hey Arooba! Where’s your poster? When are you leaving for Aurat March? I’m running sooo late, can I catch a ride with you?” “Hahah hey! I’m actually not going.” “Oh.”
A typical conversation on the day of the Aurat March. This one syllable ‘oh’ and the plain-faced expression which goes with it makes one cower and look down at the ground in shame, which is the intended effect at the end of the day. I would spend the rest of the day justifying myself to anybody who would listen but would meet the same level of indifference, like a criminal who tries to convince the police he’s innocent after getting arrested for the first time. It's only when I meet my girls at the end of the day, that I find some comfort. After three years of facing the same dilemma every time Aurat March rolls around, I have finally decided to stop feeling ashamed, and here’s why:
I’m scared. That might not be a good enough reason for most, but it’s true and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who thinks so. And the fear doesn’t just stem from the many threats from the conservatives of the country, but also from the fact that even at the very heart of the women’s movement, we are still targets for predators posing as male allies. The idea of being harassed, cornered, or stalked in a crowded place where nobody would notice – as has happened to many women I know - is horrifying in an ironic manner as the whole point of the march is to mitigate these concerns.
Next, it is important to remember that everyone has a different story and may not be able to prioritize the same things as everyone else owing to their backgrounds. Even if one is to overcome their fears of facing bodily harm or mental injury by becoming a part of this movement, one also has to think about their families and whether they can afford to be caught up in such harm.
That being said, going to the march is not a pre-requisite to be a feminist. There are many other ways you can support the movement. If you’ve got some income to spare, contribute it towards an initiative focused on empowering women, otherwise spread awareness about these initiatives on social media. The hardest one is to start from home, where you often have to butt heads with your family – the people you love most – to break barriers and create a new normal. If you have any children in your family or teach children, focus on educating them about the movement.
Finally, I need to make a huge shoutout to all the strong, brave women who hold their posters high and keep their voices loud at the Aurat March in open defiance to the ignorance around them. However, a sad reality remains: women in Pakistan still have to make a grave choice between security and equality to attend Aurat March and this is no easy decision. The media keeps asking women why they march, but there’s no one asking why so many can’t.