Why the Aurat March is a revolutionary feat for Pakistan


When society is against the mere idea of women gathering outside the home, pulling off such an event is no easy task.

When news of the Aurat March flooded my social media in the days leading up to March 8, I squealed in joy every time I saw a mention of it.

I couldn’t help but think about my younger sister zealously informing me, “the etymology of the word ‘aurat’ is misogynistic.”

The etymological roots of ‘aurat’ give us meanings that range from ‘vulnerability’ to ‘genitals’, and later, to ‘wife’, thus reducing women to, of course, their weakness, reproductive organs and their relation to husbands.

I was not surprised at the revelation, but definitely amused, for the phenomenon is not unique to our language. The word ‘woman’ can also be traced back to the meaning ‘little man’. And ‘woman’, too, later became used to indicate ‘wife’.

Building our vocabulary

When I saw that the mobilisers were using ‘aurat’ instead of ‘women’, the distinction meant everything to me. While the choice to label what is obviously a women’s march in local terms may seem pedantic to some, it has strong bearings on how South Asian activists and feminists can and will vernacularise the fight for women’s rights.

It is no secret that feminism is often co-opted by many to be viewed as a Western construct which marginalises non-Western identities. Western hegemony over feminist movements then feeds into a repulsion towards feminism that is found in countries such as Pakistan.

We have grassroot feminist efforts working on the question of gender, yet we still lack a vernacular that can be used to refer to issues of gender inequality.

While our languages are extremely evocative in expressing the full range of human emotion, it is a shame that we still have to rely on words such as ‘zyadti’ (excess) or ‘zina-bil-jabr’ (adultery by force) or ‘asmat-dari’ (defloration) to refer to incidents such as rape.

With the Aurat March, terms such as ‘pidar shahi’ (patriarchy) and ‘aurat march’ are being circulated and created.

Slogans such as “ghar ka kaam, sab ka kaam”, “khud khana garam karo”, “consent ki tasbeeh roz parhein” and — my favourite — “paratha rolls, not gender roles” give a local flavour to the ways we can talk about feminism and gender.

A visual repertoire

I understand that the need to ask for consent and examine gendered roles may not be part of public discourse in Pakistan, which is why this is definitely a step in the right direction.

The crowdsourced production of vocabulary, with signs and slogans, that can be used to speak of women’s rights and issues, is part of the revolutionary impact that the Aurat March has.

Even on the level of visual aesthetics, the March broke through conventions in the best ways. In Karachi, brilliant women were seen escorting “pidarshahi ka janaza” (the funeral procession of patriarchy).

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