Pakistan's fight for gender equality amid COVID-19
Islamabad : As crimes against women in Pakistan continues to mount, women across the country -- like every International Womens' Day -- would be staging an 'Aurat March' demonstrating against the atrocities that women face, but this time in a more curtailed setting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Human Rights Watch, data from domestic violence helplines across Pakistan indicated that cases of domestic violence increased 200 per cent from January-March 2020, and further worsened during the COVID-19 lockdowns after March.
Aurat March, which started in 2018, carried out every year on the International Womens' Day. The first march was held in 2018 in Karachi. The marches area attended by women, children, men, transgender people, and others.
According to Dawn, the Karachi chapter's theme this year will look at how existing harmful structures are perpetuated by the State and institutions as well as our social fabric itself.
Organisers Soha Tanwir Khan and Moneeza Ahmed explained that, like every year, the core objectives have been decided after conversations and consultations with the many communities that the organisation works with.
"Our manifesto, for example, demands incremental institutional changes, such as the addition of women and transwomen medico legal officers, criminalising the two-finger test and questions related to sexual history conducted during rape investigations," they explained.
"Our social media campaign, 'A-Z of Patriarchal Violence', highlights some specific tools that are used to perpetuate patriarchal violence, for example, acid attacks, enforced disappearances, discriminatory legislation against women and trans people, surveillance etc," the duo told Images (Dawn).
The city of Lahore will address the healthcare crisis that women in Pakistan are facing, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. "It brought health into a sharp global focus. During the lockdown, we had time to self reflect and observe how women's health is continuously sidelined. Health issues are understood in a very politicised and boxed manner," said Ajwah, a volunteer with the Lahore chapter.
The manifesto speaks on the issues while taking into account class, geography, and gender.
Dawn further reported that the country's capital Islamabad focuses on the crisis of care. The 2021 theme is "feminist care in the time of the coronavirus crisis".
Called the Aurat Azadi March, the Islamabad version revolves around economic justice and the manifesto demands different actions that can help alleviate financial burden and pressure from the public at a time when the pandemic has left most battered.
The news outlet further reported that while Karachi will not be going forward with a full march this year, Lahore and Islamabad are moving ahead with precautions.
Karachi will instead be looking at a dharna (sit-in), where the crowd and COVID-19 safety can be managed in an easier fashion.
Last year's event proved that there is more at stake than just the virus and the organisers are also looking into security arrangements. The 2020 march saw attendees getting pelted with stones and the demonstrators being attacked.
This is the fourth year that the march is being organised around the country. In this time, one unquestionable outcome has been the push for more conversations.
According to Human Rights Watch, child marriage remains a serious problem in Pakistan, with 21 per cent of girls marrying before age 18, and 3 per cent marrying before 15. Women from religious minority communities remain particularly vulnerable to forced marriage. The government has done little to stop such forced marriages.
In August, a Human Rights Ministry report found that women in prison receive inadequate medical care and live in poor conditions.
According to the report, Pakistan's prison laws did not meet international standards and officials routinely ignored laws meant to protect women prisoners. The report also found that children who accompany their mothers in prison face additional risks of poor nutrition and lack of education.