Women in large numbers, as well as men, participated in this year’s Aurat March held across the country to mark International Women’s Day. This year, the rally was extended to more cities including Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Larkana and Hyderabad. The placards held by women at the march carried slogans were considered explicit and embarrassing by an MMA lawmaker from Sindh Assembly who also decided to register a police complaint against the organisers. While campaigning for rights or creating awareness about societal attitudes on various issues may be one aspect,however, there is a dire need to address the various challenges faced by women and girls affecting their personal and professional lives.Women’s Day should be more about celebrating, cherishing and honouring women rather than admonishing men. Just like some of the problems faced by women may be attributed to the opposite gender,however,it is not possible to overcome any hurdles without the support of men. So, this day needs to be celebrated in the spirit of aligning forces to fight the chains of patriarchy that affect men and women alike. This does not imply that we must not address challenges, atrocities, and persecution in various forms such as dowry deaths, acid violence and child marriages. We must always lendunabated support for such causes as they are harmful for all members of a society and not just females. According to a recent ADB report, acid violence is common in many South-East and South Asian countries. In South Asia, acid violence is committed against women who reject marriage proposals and sexual advances, and as a result of dowry-related conflict. Acid attacks also constitute a hidden form of violence against women and girls, as many cases go unreported.Empowerment must also be about celebrating women who have overcome all obstacles and are a beacon of hope in desperate times be it Muniba Mazari, Malala Yousafzai, Arfa Karim, and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who have rendered gender, age or physical condition extraneous. Many more are making way for both men and women in a galaxy of global change makers. Feminism is more about men and women supporting each other to overcome patriarchy that is deeply entrenched in social, cultural and historical ethos. If we look at some key indicators such as education, economic participation a lot of gaps are narrowing between men and women. However, both need to support each other for continued progress. A PCSW gender parity survey report (2018) reveals that males account for 69 percent of the labour force in Punjab, while women 28 percent. More women are part of rural labour force than in urban areas. Only 29 percent women own agriculture land against men’s ownership at 71 percent. Vehicles registered in the name of women are only one percent, against 99 percent are owned by men. Pakistan’s overall literacy rate has been static at 58 percent with literacy rate of male at 70 percent and 48 percent for females according to PSLM survey 2015,Hiring more women and abolishing discriminatory laws could significantly boost the global economyIt is also important to recognise that sometimes the very hurdles women face in personal and professional spheres are caused by other women and not men. Bullying at work place, schools, colleges and universities, domestic abuse and violence being some very important ones; that actually harm physical and mental well-being of countless females. Some of the more dangerous misogynists can be women themselves and have deleterious consequences that may lead to drop outs from schools, colleges, workplaces. It is important for human resource departments across organizations to take account of all forms of bullying behaviours perpetrated by both men and women. Mental, physical and social well-being for all individuals needs to be ensured at all times. Women’s safety in public spaces, workplaces, and even in their homes needs to be made mandatory. Although women’s participation is rising in various spheres of life such as politics,labour market, sports, education etc. But the hurdles are also becoming prominent and we need to educate our society to embrace these changes smoothly. Sexism and ageism need to take a back seat. Empowerment is more about supporting each other and keeping each other’s rights intact. Both genders need to play their roles for a balanced society. Equally important is women supporting each other.There is a constant need to engage and inform people about gender specific needs and facilities such as day cares, maternity leaves, safety and protection and economic and legal rights. There are already many rights that have been granted to women in the Holy Quran, many of them we still struggle and resist to grant women even in today’s day and age.(“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Qur’an, 2: 228)The rights regarding inheritance, mehr, rights within a marriage, rights as a mother all need to be taken seriously and implemented in our societies. It isn’t something new particularly for Muslim societies, but the failure lies in the implementation of what has been evidently granted to them many centuries ago. For a balanced society we need to provide care and support to all individuals to harness their productivity, contribute and excel in all spheres of life be it domestic, social, economic or political.Feminism is often misunderstood even in the west and many people see it as a threat to the existing patriarchal power structures. However, you don’t even have to be a feminist to believe in gender equality. Equal rights are something so basic and so human that it needs to resonate with anyone who believes in fundamental human rights. Before deciding to march against men it is the women who first need to support each other to deal with misogyny and discrimination.Recently, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, pointed out that the countries ranked in the bottom 50 percent for gender equality such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon could experience economic gains of as much as 35 percent by tackling workplace sexism in professional industries. A new IMF research shows that the new skills and productivity levels that women bring to the workforce yields higher economic benefits. Hiring more women leads to “higher growth, a reduction in inequality, an improvement in the strength of the economy and a more diversified, export-focused country.” Hiring more women and abolishing discriminatory laws could significantly boost the global economy.There is a need to devise practical policy measures for removing discrimination from legal frameworks and promoting change in social norms. Due to the induction of SDG 5 on gender equality we need to have gender-responsive institutions and localization to mainstream and prioritizing gender equality across all policy sectors. This should lead to ensuring women’s active and equal participation, representation and leadership at all levels.However, some very basic steps could be feeling safe walking to the market, or through parks, or having access to clean water, public health centres and affordable childcare, a pension in old age and public housing for survivors of domestic abuse.Infrastructure, public services and social protections for women and girls need to be factored in when policies are designed. Their voices must shape the decisions that affect their lives and well-being.When women are at the table, making decisions, they bring changes that benefit entire societies and nations.The writer is an economic development analyst based in LahorePublished in Daily Times, March 21st 2019.