While the sexual assault awareness campaign #Metoo of 2017, cascaded into 2018, revolutionizing Hollywood and filtering through mainstream America and teen activist Greta Thunberg took over the world with her climate strikes in 2019, Pakistan too felt the effects of this global wave of social awareness. In fact, perhaps it would not be wrong to say that 2019 has been a year of activism for Pakistan.
The year kicked off with the ‘Aurat March’ (Women’s March) held on 8th March, as women took to the streets to celebrate the International Women’s day bearing slogans such as ‘Freedom over Fear’ and ‘Pidarshahi ka Janaza’ (the funeral procession of patriarchy). The march which, started in the city of Karachi the previous year, successfully thronged about eight cities across Pakistan in 2019. While the women collectively highlighted their issues, they also called for labor rights, environmental justice, transgender rights and an end to child marriage. It is interesting to note that the mobilisers purposefully used the term ‘Aurat March’ to label what was obviously a women’s march, with the effect of extending the Western struggle for women’s rights, to suit the context of Pakistan. This appropriation had far-reaching effects, as it allowed the masses to identify with ‘feminist’ ideologies, which are often dismissed as Western constructs used to marginalize non-Western identities, towards the empowerment of females in Pakistan.
Following this, in September youth across the country responded to the call of 16 year old Greta Thunberg, and came out to march against the government’s lack of effort in trying to curtail the climate crisis. One of the most commendable things about the march was the young age of its leadership, consisting primarily of school children. Protests included tree planting ceremonies, speeches, poems, and open mic by students. Although in Pakistan, the marches had an urban bias and many participants were from comparatively privileged households- despite the fact that it is the rural areas which remains most vulnerable to climate change- the protests spanned over 27 cities and towns including Mardan, Jhang, Chitral, Ghotki, etc. This initiative was organized by Climate Action Now, bringing millions of young people out of their homes, to join climate strikes in countries all over the world and protest global warming.
The year closed off with the ‘Student Solidarity March’ towards the end of November, as individuals from different walks of life – including students, activists and supporters- demanded the restoration of student unions. Protestors using red motifs, displaying placards and shouting slogans staged demonstrations in 50 cities across the country. The march was organized by the Progressive Students’ Collective (PSC) who called for an end to the class system and sexual harassment on university campuses.
While some of these citizen-led initiatives succeeded in pushing for reform, others were unable to do so, but what was common was the enthusiasm of the participants and their determination to bring forth a positive change. With the same gusto, let’s hope to further this spirit of change in an all new 2020.
By Shanzay Salman