Much has been written, debated and discussed on the Aurat March(es) that took place across the country on International Women’s Day. There have been extreme reactions: from calling for inquiries into the funding and organization of these marches to horrific abuse and death threats being directed at those who organized and attended these peaceful protests. So the first question that arises is: what did the women, men and non-binaries at these marches do or say to deserve the fury that has been unleashed against them? Let us start from the two major critiques that have been put forth. The first criticism relates to the “elite” nature of these marches. It seems as though those leveling this criticism have made a conscious decision to willfully ignore the cross-sections of society represented at these marches. From domestic help to lawyers and activists, from the richest women to the poorest, it is undeniable that the marches brought together women from all walks of life and professions. The very simple reality is that all women in Pakistan are deeply affected by the rampant discrimination embedded within our social fabric: it is for this reason that women from each social strata and profession took to the streets in solidarity with one another. The second criticism is what is the most problematic attack (in terms of its entirely lacking substantive content), i.e. the critique that there were “obscene”, “indecent” and “anti-Islam” placards and posters held up by some of the women at the marches. For starters, one thing this criticism (in substance and form) has made absolutely clear is that it has very little to do with the content of the posters. The same exact criticism would have been leveled regardless of the content of the posters because the objective behind this criticism is not to “protect Islam” or “safeguard the honour of women”: the purpose of this criticism is to deflect from the very real issues women face in their daily lives – issues of violence, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. And as for the women who came out, guns blazing, against their own, my sincere advice to them is as follows. Look around you and hear the plight of the women around you. Remember that while today your father, husband or brother may be treating you with “respect”, it is for the protection of all women (including you) that the Aurat Marches took place The problem here is not that five or six women held up a placard with “offensive” content but that women dared to express their anger and frustration at the treatment meted out to them for the last many decades in this country. The issue stems from the realization on the part of many men in this country that women have finally had enough and are not willing to sit politely and smile at violations of their fundamental human rights. We are being lectured about “manners”, “Pakistani culture” and “Islamic values” by the very same people whose lack of manners are, in part, the stimulus for these marches. Every action has an equally forceful reaction and this reaction (of outrage) was expected from certain quarters that are in the habit of diverting attention away from underlying issues that remain unresolved. The purpose of this deflection is quite simple: those engaging in it are unable and unwilling to even imagine a society where women choose to make their own decisions concerning their lives, careers and futures. God forbid a woman dare to determine her own destiny. Let us, for the sake of argument only, concede that there was something inherently “offensive” or “abusive” inscribed on these posters, the question that then arises is: is this rage that Pakistani women are feeling unjustified? Is it coming from nowhere or is it coming from over 70 years of blatant injustices committed against them on the pretext of “honour” and religion? Moreover, is it only Pakistani men that have a right to abuse or beat the life out of whichever woman they disagree with? Did the men in this country really expect that women could be abused, kicked, slapped, paraded naked on the streets, killed in the name of “honour” and thrown acid on only to respond with a smile and exercise restraint? That is an unrealistic (and quite frankly, stupid) expectation. And if this expectation has been shattered (which from the reactions to these marches, it clearly has), well done to all the participants of these marches for exposing this society’s inherently hypocritical nature. And as for the women who came out, guns blazing, against their own, my sincere advice to them is as follows. Look around you and hear the plight of the women around you. Remember that while today your father, husband or brother may be treating you with “respect”, it is for the protection of all women (including you) that the Aurat Marches took place. It is for the day that your daughter is not allowed to go to school, your sister forced into a marriage she did not consent to and for the possibility of justice against your violent husband that these women are fighting on the front lines for not just themselves, but each and every single one of you. If you do not have the desire to fight, at the very least be grateful for their efforts because of which your future might be a little brighter than it was yesterday. The writer is a lawyer Published in Daily Times, March 16th 2019.