A look at Aurat March, Pakistan's feminist organisation fighting for social change

Since 2018, thousands have been joining the Aurat March on International Women’s Day to bring political and social change to Pakistan.

The picture shows participants marching at the Aurat March 2024 in Karachi, Pakistan.
Image: Instagram: @auratmarch

On International Women’s Day 2024, thousands gathered across Pakistan for a protest led by the independent organisation Aurat March, which translates to ‘women’s march’ in Urdu (the country’s national language). The demonstration takes place every year to promote gender equality and denounce sexist norms and gender-based violence. This year, it particularly advocated for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, denounced discrimination and inequalities faced by minorities and called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The 2024 theme was “Politics. Resistance. Freedom.” and organisers described their presence in the streets of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, and Quetta as a “political act” criticising patriarchal norms. Throughout the protest, participants could be heard shouting slogans such as “My Body My Choice” and “Khud khana garam karlo”, which translates to “Heat up your own food”.

More than a march, the organisation also sets up art installations, performances, and a feminist press conference to discuss the movements’ demands and concerns. The latter had to exclude cisgender male journalists this year, as it was previously disrupted by reporters refusing to share the floor with women and trans individuals, spreading misinformation and asking damaging questions.

The 2024 conference notably discussed the Aurat March Manifesto, which the organisation has been putting out each year since 2018 ahead of its march. The manifesto gathers requests made by the organisation concerning women and LGBTQ+ rights, including calling for gender equity in the country, access to public spaces, and reproductive rights. It also includes demands for economic and justice equality, environmental demands, and calls to end police brutality.


In the Aurat March Manifesto, the organisers shared their will to renew Pakistani politics into “A politics that makes room for empathy and love. A politics that accepts us for who we are instead of boxing us into narrow categories of representation. A politics of resistance. A politics of liberation. A politics of feminism.”

It is directed towards the Pakistani government and wider society to bring attention to all those issues.

Speaking after the press conference, one representative told The Current, “We are happy that this year, because the conference was conducted peacefully, we even got suggestions from journalists – which will, of course, help us as well”.

As part of this year’s demonstration, many installations and performances also took place. A tunnel was erected to represent street harassment by being covered with catcalling phrases heard by women and gender-diverse individuals in Pakistan. The organisers urged participants to take a walk in that tunnel to experience what women and khawajasira people (referring to transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming individuals) go through. It is representative of the movement’s demands, including safety in the streets and the possibility for marginalised individuals to occupy public spaces without being harassed.


Another installation was the graveyard of the patriarchy, created to remember the stories of women and queer individuals who have lost their life to patriarchal violence. The installation showed the extent of this violence, from the 30-year-old woman decapitated and killed by her partner after she broke up with him to the two-year-old Palestinian killed by Israeli Defence Forces.



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A post shared by Aurat March 2024 (@auratmarch)

At the Aurat March 2024, The Tribune talked to some participants who shared: “I am so happy to be part of a generation that speaks up against injustice,” stated 29-year-old Ayesha Izhar.

“I love the fact that my generation questions everything instead of accepting what the oppressor commands. We have made it clear that we did not inherit the silence of our mothers.”



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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Aurat March Lahore (@auratmarchlahore)

Since its first edition in 2018, the march has continued to gain momentum over the years, leaving its mark on Pakistani history. The movement allows women to publicly address topics that are traditionally limited to the private sphere, such as autonomy in the public domain, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, consent, marriage and divorce. Furthermore, the movement denounces capitalist, colonial and imperialist structures that generate oppression and violence.

The intersectional approach pushes the movement to reflect on various issues concerning marginalised communities, and bringing those topics into public discourse is empowering Pakistani women and queer individuals while shattering taboos.

The movement is ground-breaking compared to previous women’s rights campaigns, as before, the topics addressed were limited and didn’t highlight issues of the household. In contrast, the Aurat March calls out gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, conjugal rape, and sexual harassment and also calls for equality within the home, challenging current patriarchal structures. It seeks to demolish systematic heteronormative structures countering women’s rights and opportunities.

Two important legislations were passed since the beginning of the Aurat March in Pakistan, although they had little impact on trans and women’s safety. The Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act was passed in 2021, aiming to speed up trials by creating specialised courts, toughening punishments, and creating sex offenders register. Its effects remain limited as the country is still witnessing considerable gender-based violence.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed in 2018, aiming to increase protections for trans individuals. Pakistan is considered one of the first countries to legally recognise trans people, although the above law only offers formal equality to trans individuals who remain discriminated against and violently abused. To address these issues, Aurat March seeks to organise demonstrations all year long to make specific demands concerning transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse individuals.



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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Aurat March 2024 (@auratmarch)

Despite these laws, Pakistan ranked second last in the Global Gender Gap Report 2023, as all institutions are male-dominated, female labour represents 23% of the country’s workforce and its wage disparities are among the worst in the world. The country is registered as one of the most dangerous for women, as each year, around 1,000 women are murdered by honour killings. Gender disparities and gender-based violence persist as much in public as in private.

As feminism is associated with Western culture, movements like the Aurat March struggle to take space within the public sphere, as they are misrepresented and misunderstood. The Pakistani society sees it as a threat to national culture and values, disturbing societal structures. This is why the movement has been at the heart of nationwide controversies and a target for conservatives.

Participants of the Aurat March have been threatened by armed groups like Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan accusing them of blasphemy and obscenity and threatening them violently ahead of the marches. In opposition to the march, groups like the Islamic political party Jamaat e Islami and religious groups such as the Red Mosque created a countermarch advocating against the feminist movement.

Despite various threats, the Aurat March still happens every year. The controversy actually made the march more visible, and it has become a symbol of hope and resilience for women and LGBTQ+ individuals in the country. The movement’s solidarity aims to bring social change, notably shifting the country’s perspective on feminism.

The Aurat March Manifesto reads: “We marched on March 8, 2018, because we felt anger, but we continued to march each successive year because we see hope.” 

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