Under which the colonized fall: some notes on the Pakistan Aurat March

Salina Khan argues that women’s rights movements in Pakistan need to re-evaluate their modus operandi and their logic when seeking liberation and justice for their sisters.  Without a culture and religion specific orientation, she argues, they are doomed to fail in all except the continued exploitation of Pakistani women as the hands of their fellow countrymen and colonial powers.

As my sister bluntly put it, “The only good thing about the coronavirus is the Pakistani media isn’t talking about the Aurat March anymore.”

For the third consecutive year, Pakistani feminists organized protest marches across the country on International Women’s Day March 8 to demand “rights” for Pakistani aurat (Urdu for women), a term that includes “trans sisters, gender non-conforming individuals or the larger queer community,” according to their manifesto. One of the themes this year was Khudmukhtari (autonomy), including women’s “right to control over economic resources, our bodies, the justice system, health and education.”

While the Pakistani public supports many of the Aurat March demands like establishing living wages, ending sexual violence, and upholding the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, it’s their demands under the slogan “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi”, (My Body, My Choice) that women be able to wear whatever they want in public, have sex with whomever they want (male or female, married or unmarried) without legal or social repercussions or judgment, and abort the resulting baby if they want, that has stirred controversy in the conservative Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

This year the government, courts, religious groups, and even celebrity artists let loose their views on such dictates of the Aurat March, and women from the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat-Ulema-Islam and Lal Masjid even organized what they referred to as the ‘Haya (Modesty) March.’ The media circus covered it night and day. That is, until the coronavirus went global, bringing the world to a halt and reminding everyone how little control we really have over our body or its effect on others.

Whose bodies?

So just like the microscopic virus turned the world topsy-turvy, it knocked down the “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” argument in one fell swoop. The deadly virus demonstrated how our bodies are interrelated and we cannot do whatever we want with them because our decisions affect others in society. The virus has forced us to be more conscious of our bodies while in public, doing whatever we can to protect them by washing hands, social distancing, and covering our nose and mouth in order to not transmit the coronavirus unknowingly.

Still, there is no guarantee we will not be infected by the virus, mildly, severely, or fatally. It is a reminder that it is all in Allah’s hands. As the world turns to the Almighty in prayers of protection from the virus, the renewed realization is it’s: “Tera Jism, Teri Marzi” (Your [Allah’s] Body, Your [Allah’s] Choice).

Failure to realize this is what misguided the Aurat Marchers from the get-go. Surely, their commitment to improving the conditions of their countrywomen is praiseworthy, but their fatal mistake is in trying to do it by following the West and not Allah.

Failed revolutions

Sadly, seventy years on, organizers of the Aurat March in Pakistan are following in the footsteps of the failed sexual revolution of Western feminists. Aurat March organizers have no qualms about shamelessly copying their Western counterparts to a T, from the date and name of the demonstration to the placards, lingo, manifesto provisions, and activities on display.

For starters, American socialists first commemorated Women’s Day on March 8, 1907, and it was picked up later by the feminist movement in 1967 and then the United Nations in 1975. Even the name Aurat March is the Urdu translation of Women’s March, which was organized by American women in 2017 in response to the election of U.S. President Trump. The slogans “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” is from the mouths of American abortion rights organizations like Planned Parenthood and therefore repulsive to most Pakistani women. Even the characters on Aurat March placards, like Rosie the Riveter who is an American cultural icon of WWII, were stolen from the West. Couldn’t the organizers find any inspiring Pakistani sheroes to display on their posters?

In February the Aurat March team released an Urdu version of a Chilean protest song called “A Rapist In Your Path” and performed it in Karachi with the same style and movements done in the Americas and Europe. It would have been more relatable and impactful to come up with their own original anthem.

Nothing can explain this self-destructive aping other than that these women suffer from a severe case of Stockholm syndrome, where the oppressed fall head-over-heels in love with their oppressor. Educated in American or European schools and colleges, many Aurat Marchers emulate everything related to their Western dominators, who not only once ruled, exploited, and raped their lands but continue to colonize their minds through education, language, and multi-media.

Colonising activism

In addition, Western institutions have been recruiting Muslim women, including those in Pakistan, to steer them towards their own version of social activism. In recent years, elite institutions have been convening conferences on empowerment, offering education, technical training and social media awareness while also providing seed money, jobs and networking to influence the paths that awakened Muslim women take around the world. Not only is this aimed at preventing true and radical changes that bring justice and prosperity to women and their societies, but it is also used to persuade activists to rally for “changes” that ultimately give even more power and riches to Western imperialists.

For example, in September 2019, the U.S. State Department launched the second phase of the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council with Texas A&M University to address “the barriers women and girls face to achieving gender equality and empowerment” in Pakistan.

Several years ago, American President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump held a meeting with mostly American-educated Saudi women in Riyadh as part of her job to “to help empower women in the United States and around the globe.”

Also in the US, Muslim women influential in their communities from around the world were invited to a “Women and Countering Violent Extremism” conference to learn how to “build a better world.” It was hosted by the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a think tank aimed at “finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.”

“We need to engage the women so that they are raising their children in the way we want,” declared Farah Pandith, who was born in Kashmir and is the former first-ever Representative to Muslim Communities appointed by the Obama Administration. Pandith is currently an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

All that glistens…

Years later, their work is bearing fruit in Pakistan. But these activists should realize that all that glistens from afar is not gold. In fact, organizers of the Aurat March promoting Western solutions to Pakistani women’s problems should be required to watch popular American tabloid talk shows from the turn of the century. 

These (addictive!) talk shows like Maury and Sally are available on the Internet and explore the horrendous problems that began seriously afflicting American families just a generation after the 1960’s and 1970’s women’s liberation movement succeeded in mainstreaming miniskirts, sex outside of marriage, and abortion as part of their struggle for equal rights.

Some of the episodes are “Five Men DNA Tested For My Daughter… Who’s Her Dad?” “I’m Only 12… and I’m Pregnant,” “Mom Stop Lying To Me… Is This Man My Father?” “Woman Needs Child Support, Man Insists He’s Not the Child’s Father,” and “Abortion Survivor Meets Her Birth Mother” to name a few.

Of course, these issues are as old as time but they’ve become widespread now and guess who’s suffering the most: women. Articles like “Liberated and Unhappy,” “Gains In Women’s Rights Haven’t Made Women Happier,” and “Has Modern Feminism Failed Us?” in the Western media reflect this reality.

No doubt, like all women around the world, Pakistani women suffer tremendous difficulties that need proper solutions.  But Western feminist solutions will only add new and extreme problems for Pakistani women. If Aurat Marchers focused on offering organic fixes to issues afflicting the common Pakistani woman, they would gain more respect, support, and long-term success. One of their own, Pakistani feminist and poet Kishwar Naheed, made that same suggestion when she criticized last year’s march for not reflecting Pakistani “culture and traditions.”

The way forward for Pakistan

Indeed, solutions issues facing Pakistani women are right under their noses: they are in the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which incidentally are supposed to be the basis of the Pakistani constitution. Allah repeatedly promises prosperity and success if we turn to His framework of guidance. On the other hand, he also warns not to ignore His gift of guidance whilst turning to false gods, like Western feminists in this case, lest our societal situation worsens.

“And Allah has configured a parable for you (that parable is) a civil society that was living securely with its sustenance flowing to it from all places; then it denied Allah being the source of (such) bounties. So Allah had it experience an engulfment of hunger and fear due to what they manufactured (mentally and materially).” (Surah An-Nahl: 112)

Indeed, the fear and hunger spreading around the world due to the coronavirus is a consequence of our collective failure to turn to, understand, and implement the system of life delineated by Allah, a system that balances the needs of all his creation in the best way. In fact, the running joke is that coronavirus has forced everybody to adopt “shariah law” all over the world by closing pubs and casinos, discouraging handshakes and close physical contact, and encouraging use of water for personal hygiene instead of paper. American President Donald Trump even suggested everyone wear a “scarf” when in public.

What Pakistani feminists failed to understand when advocating for less clothing, unrestricted sex, and abortions is that the limitations put on us by Allah are for our own good as well as the public good. Just like a foreign body infecting a person can damage it while also spreading physical ailments to others, exposing one’s body to Western ways can also damage it and spread spiritual diseases like lust and dissatisfaction. How a person dresses (whether male or female), their looks, their gestures and actions, and their scents all have an effect on other people. If Covid-19 has reminded us of one thing it is that we are all interconnected, interdependent, and at the Mercy of Allah.

In a welcome turn of events, ever since the Coronavirus hit, Aurat Marchers have turned their attention from dancing on the streets and lesbian and abortion rights to the pressing problems of Pakistani women, such as lack of education, healthcare, and nutrition.

Some examples:

Hygiene: Aurat March made an Urdu version of a Vox video demonstrating the importance of washing hands with soap and water.

Medical Kits: Aurat March collected money to assemble Personal Protective Equipment kits for medical professionals which include gloves, shoe covers, face masks, hair caps, and disposable body suits.

Food: On March 29 “Aurat March Lahore distributed rations to 45 households… These are home-based, domestic and daily wage workers who haven’t received any meaningful government support to financially counter the devastating economic effects of coronavirus pandemic.” The food packages included flour, lentils, oil, sugar, tea, soap, face masks, gloves, Panadol, dry milk, salt, and chili powder.

Hopefully, the coronavirus has awakened Pakistani women activists out of their mesmerization of all things Western, and they will continue to work on issues that affect the common Pakistani woman.

It is awakened, enlightened, and brave women who can bring about a just and fair society. Imam Khomeini, the architect of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that uprooted a 2,500-year-old monarchy said: “Women have shown that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their menfolk in the struggle; one could even go so far as to say that they lead the way.”

If you look, you’re sure gonna find

Throughout mankind’s history

A Colonized Mind

The one in power makes law

Under which the colonized fall

Without God, it’s just the blind leading the blind

–“Colonized Mind” by Prince

Salina Khan is a blogger at the perfectionists.blogspot.com and a regular contributor to Crescent magazine. She’s a former business travel reporter at USA Today. Salina received her Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She lives outside Nashville, USA, with her husband and three children.