Many remember the television serial Humsafar as a game-changer for the Pakistani television industry. In addition to winning the hearts of its audience, it generated unprecedented revenue, popularity and opportunity for our local media houses. Of course it did not matter that Humsafar reinforced some of the most vile and misogynistic plots in the Urdu drama viz a viz women conspiring against other women; the female protagonist (Khirad) being safe only in the confines of her home; the woman (Sara) open about her love projected as hysterical and evil, and a wife losing her husband as a result of her decision to pursue education. The fact that Humsafar dragged women back to a metaphoric Chaadar and Char Deewari, fashionably wrapped in toxic romanticism, was overlooked. The discourse on women in Pakistan has become a glaring question mark. The entire conversation has regressed, and instead of debating issues of legal rights, freedom of choice and equal representation, women are still resisting backlash to their mere presence and visibility in public spaces. They are still fighting to be accepted as an individual, not only products of their association to men. To be more than just a mother, sister and daughter. As though these challenges were not enough, movies, television serials, literature and even school textbooks have been propagating skewed ideas of womanhood, femininity and masculinity. It is perhaps not a surprise that this generation echoes bigotry, from ministers promising to have dancers clad in burkas, to college administrations imposing fine on female students for covering themselves differently from their ideal of covering up. In a society plagued with misogyny, policing of women’s choices and sensibilities is creating further problems. In this hostile environment, it is crucial to revisit, over and over again, the F word. Feminism. What is feminism in Pakistan, other than a grossly misunderstood term? Feminism is the spirit of freedom, equity and inclusivity. It stands for all those who are discriminated against based on gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity and age. Feminism strives to create positive change by ending all kinds of exploitation and oppression. It stands for all those who are victims of patriarchal norms, which includes men and women. To identify as a feminist is simply to acknowledge that the world, as it stands today, is unfair, unjust and unsafe for a lot of people. And it is the promise to make it better. Feminism strives to create positive change by ending all kinds of exploitation and oppression. It stands for all those who are victims of patriarchal norms, which includes men and women The stigma attached to women’s presence in the public sphere and in the public’s imagination needs to be corrected. This stigma not only dehumanizes women but also limits their agency and participation in key social, political and economic activities. It creates the very environment where all-male committees deliberate issues concerning women and all-male panels discuss works of female artists and writers. On the other hand, the notion of treating public spaces as the exclusive domain of men normalises sexual violence as well as leering and jeering in public spaces. And not unknown to anyone, in most cases, the blame of such violence is casually ascribed to women who are attacked. Why blame the victim? Because for women to be seen or heard in public is deemed as trespassing. Tragically, stereotypical thinking has become so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that any attempt to displace or challenge this myopic mindset has resulted in deep distrust for women movements and a strong backlash against them. It appears as though in a stiflingly conservative society like ours, the ideals of feminist emancipation can only be achieved through persistent defiance. The dream of justice, fairness and opportunity can only be achieved after fighting years and years of internalized misogyny and sexism. If so, then Aurat March is one such fearless effort in defiance. A voice for the fifty percent of Pakistan, that was silenced for way too long. And a resistance that demands unity and solidarity among all segments of society. The first ever Aurat March was concurrently held in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018. Although the movement is part of a larger pushback by women across the globe, Aurat March has distinctly spurred from within. It has a vernacular character and an organic link with other domestic social movements. Women of all ages and their allies march in solidarity with women all across the country. Participation of women from diverse backgrounds shows how ubiquitous the core demands are. These demands include an end to physical, emotional and sexual violence against women, labour rights, wage equality, reproductive rights, fair political representation, equal opportunities, equality for the transgender community and an end to child marriage. This march also underscores the idea that women’s liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of all marginalised groups and minorities. Among other things, one of the most significant aspects of Aurat March is the reclamation of public spaces. For such lofty goals, the movement merits support from all quarters. If, after years of oppression, women can stand for the betterment of every single one in this society – why can’t the public extend support to them? Leaders, celebrities and public figures should come out and be a part of this march. Men also need to be a part of the solution-not out of some sense of entitlement or some misplaced urge to rescue women-but because it’s the right thing to do. Men should examine themselves and show solidarity with the movement. They can ask questions, widen their perspective, call their own perspectives into question and most importantly, they can listen. Men have been conditioned by patriarchal society to conform to gender roles rooted in toxic masculinity for too long. Dismantling toxic masculinity would help keep in check male privilege and those who have exploited it, in turn, helping the mental, intellectual and emotional progress of our society. The nature of male privilege is such that those who are benefiting from it the most are also least likely to recognise it. Aurat march is an opportunity to join forces and work towards a more fair, peaceful and productive world. The world of women’s rights is not just the progress of one gender, it is the progress of the society as a whole. Join the Aurat March on 8th March to challenge stereotypes, push new boundaries and stand up against patriarchy. The author is Lahore-based human rights activist and freelance writer Published in Daily Times, March 8th 2019.