Petition alleges march is “anti-state” . . .
Pakistan’s Lahore High Court heard opening arguments yesterday in an important case for the country’s women’s rights movement. The case is intended to stop or regulate the Aurat (Urdu for ‘woman’ or ‘female’) March 2020 and to limit its promotion on social media. The first annual Aurat marches were held in several Pakistani cities on International Women’s Day (March 8) in 2018. The petition alleges that the Aurat March 2020 is funded by “anti-state parties . . . with the sole purpose of spreading anarchy amongst the masses.” It further argues the March is "against the very norms of Islam" and that its organizers have a hidden agenda to spread "anarchy, vulgarity, and hatred."
Limiting freedom of expression . . .
Freedom of expression is at the core of the case. Legal counsel for the group bringing the petition argued that there should be limitations on the March on account of its “immoral” content, and sought the implementation of a mechanism for ensuring the March and other “anti-state activities” are not promoted on social media. Counsel for the defence highlighted that previous marches were peaceful and drew attention to women’s importance to society. The judge hearing the case agreed that every Pakistani citizen has the right to freedom of expression and asked the country’s Deputy Inspector General to inform the court of any security concerns associated with the March. Arguments will continue on March 3.
A long way to go for women’s rights in Pakistan . . .
The Aurat March is the latest high-profile women’s rights mobilization in a country with a long and deep tradition of severe restrictions on women’s freedoms based in religious and cultural norms that have frequently been backed by the state. Last year’s March was peaceful, yet backlash against March participants and organizers was swift. Faked images from the March circulated online, women were threatened with violence and rape, and lawmakers spoke of taking action against March organizers. It is encouraging that the judge in this case seems to have upheld women’s freedom of expression, but women’s rights have a long way to go in Pakistan. For instance, a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll in 2018 ranked Pakistan the sixth most dangerous country for women.