First, they tore down the posters —and then they came for the mural.
Aurat Azadi March, in its third year now, seems to be really shaking things up.
And as the grassroots movement expands, the backlash against it has also increased in hate and fervour.
Recently —ahead of the planned march on International Women’s Day this Sunday —activists, artists and volunteers painted a beautiful mural in the country’s capital as an ode to those who are silenced, and celebrating the ones that have empowered others.
But before the mural painting could be finished, it was violently shut down by some bearded men and burqa-clad women.
And if brow-beating activists into abandoning their artwork wasn't enough, thugs and goons later came back to the spot in G-7 and vandalised the mural, blackening faces of the female figures depicted on the wall.
The mural, which was a labour of love, was not only a way for people to come together but was a beacon of hope and tolerance.
But according to activists present, the mob referenced fahaashi, or obscenity, as a reason to terrorise and put a stop to the peaceful congregation.
By obliterating symbols of hope and change, close-minded individuals and groups in our society have put themselves on the wrong side of history.
But instead of being a hindrance, movements with legitimate concerns thrive in the face of pushback.
Speaking to Images, Nida Mushtaq, street artist and member of the Aurat March Islamabad chapter who was involved with painting the mural and was present when the mob arrived to destroy their work, said, "In our society, two women out on their own are still ‘alone’. Unless we are accompanied by a man, women are considered ‘akeli’ and not only cannot be seen in public but should always aspire to have a male companion for life. Yeh konse mardon ka des hai jahan do, teen, char, sabb larkian akeli hain?"
"The Do Akeli Larkian mural envisioned a Pakistani society where women are explorers, wanderers, and creators of a just and beautiful world. The mural is part of the Aurat Azadi March campaign that demands that in our society people of all genders should be respected, provided equal social and economic opportunities to grow and navigate the world on their own terms — without harassment, discrimination and violence."
She continues, "Organisers of Aurat Azadi March, along with a group of progressive activists, students, teachers, political workers, artists came together to make this mural for Aurat Azadi March 2020 after we received immense hatred and backlash from the society at large. Our art speaks for us and the collective effort, colours, details and symbols of our paintings on the streets are testament what we are willing to put out in the world to make it just for everyone. The groups who vandalised our mural also proved to the world what sort of a dark world they want to create."
Mushtaq reiterates that they will continue to stand against such violence and use public art to speak on issues that affect marginalised gender groups, including women, and envision a beautiful and peaceful world for everyone.
While posters for the Aurat March were recently torn off by bystanders in various cities, activists, artists and volunteers have continued to use public spaces for artwork that depicts their vision.
So, for those asking why march? The right to visibility is reason enough.