Aurat March's social media mobilisation campaign resulted in significant participation of people with disabilities

Karachi's Frere Hall is inaccessible to people with disabilities. Aurat March made it inclusive

Aurat March's social media mobilisation campaign resulted in significant participation of people with disabilities.
Updated Mar 11, 2020 02:21pm

“I only decided to attend the Aurat March when I was informed by the organising team that the march will be inclusive for those with disabilities and arrangements are being made for easy access,” said Aneeq, a fresher at a liberal arts college in Karachi.

“Without the access ramp, it would have been impossible for my electric bike to enter the main area of the jalsa. I would have left the venue immediately if access ramps weren’t present at the venue.”

He further added that ‘lifting the wheelchair up’ as a solution to inaccessibility is humiliating to a wheelchair user. Instead, proper ramps should be placed, as they were at this year’s Aurat March in Karachi.

Aneeq — NOWPDP Facebook page
Aneeq — NOWPDP Facebook page

The wheelchairs present at the venue of the Aurat March were frequently being used by the injured, the elderly, the pregnant, and those with physical disabilities.

Even more, people came in with their personal assistive devices after hearing about the accessibility of the March from the organisers, many of whom would have been unable to do so if it wasn’t for the access ramps set up at two locations inside Frere Hall — turning an otherwise inaccessible space, the main garden of Frere Hall, to an inclusive one.

Inaccessibility is not limited to the absence of access ramps

Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords nowadays. From corporations to NGOs, the development sector, and the government, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, often without a holistic and nuanced understanding of what it actually entails. Inclusion of people with disabilities is one such issue which is discussed a lot but hardly anything ever materialises – owing to the lack of effort, understanding, and commitment.

A picture of the ramp at Aurat March, Frere Hall — Mustafa Siddiqui
A picture of the ramp at Aurat March, Frere Hall — Mustafa Siddiqui

Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2011. Among other things, this convention also protects the right of people with disabilities to accessible spaces — be it public or private. The government of Pakistan passed the Accessibility Code of Pakistan in 2006 and the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh — post 18th amendment — have passed comprehensive laws on disability rights in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Most recently, the National Assembly of Pakistan also passed a law protecting the rights of people with disabilities which is applicable to the Islamabad Capital Territory.

Inaccessibility is not limited to the absence of access ramps only, but the limited understanding of the needs of people with visual, hearing or intellectual disabilities leads to the dissemination of content and information in a way which is inaccessible to a significant number of individuals.


Despite having strong legal protection, finding accessible locations — be it restaurants, universities, parks, banks, and government offices — is an extremely difficult task. There have been instances where minor hindrances have left a location completely inaccessible for wheelchair users. The most common error is that of the placement of plant pots, often positioned right in front of access ramps, and thus, blocking the entrance for wheelchair users.

Similarly, an event was organised recently at one business school in Karachi, where due to the unavailability of an accessible stage, the organisers had to keep themselves from considering a wheelchair user as one of the panellists. If this isn’t systematic exclusion, then what is?

Sign language interpretation — Manal Khan
Sign language interpretation — Manal Khan

Inaccessibility is not limited to the absence of access ramps only, but the limited understanding of the needs of people with visual, hearing or intellectual disabilities leads to the dissemination of content and information in a way which is inaccessible to a significant number of individuals.

The ethos of disability inclusion remained at the forefront at this year's Aurat March

Ramp at Aurat March, Frere Hall— NOWPDP
Ramp at Aurat March, Frere Hall— NOWPDP

The issue of inclusion and diversity becomes even more important when discussed in the context of political movements. How inclusive is the message of a political movement? How diverse are its supporters? Is it limited to the elite of the country only? Are members from marginalised communities significantly represented?

All these questions have repeatedly been raised by individuals and entities critical of Aurat March.

However, the Aurat March, since its inception, has closely followed the principles of inclusion by creating space for the marginalised communities and individuals, including women belonging to rural areas, religious minorities, the transgender community, and the working-class women.

This year’s Aurat March in Karachi went another step ahead and included people with disabilities as well. From the planning, to charting out the demands made by people with disabilities, to ensuring the accessibility of marketing campaign, the venue, the speeches, and the performances — the ethos of disability inclusion remained at the forefront.

“Our understanding of disability as a social and structural issue meant that we had to commit to taking affirmative steps to ensure access and inclusion for people with disabilities — particularly women with disabilities,” Fizza Qureshi and Reem Khurshid, the organising team members of Aurat March, mentioned while speaking about the reasons why Aurat March emphasised a lot on disability inclusion this year.

Rights of the disabled—AuratMarchKhi, Twitter
Rights of the disabled—AuratMarchKhi, Twitter

They added, “Disability affects every social group, and likely to happen to anyone at any time, but as we know women with disabilities face even more stigma and exclusion as a result not only of their disability but also their gender. We wanted to do our utmost to remove whatever barriers to access we could in the short span of time available to us and we were delighted to find dedicated allies in NOWPDP to work with.”

This achievement, as Reem and Fizza understand, is only the beginning of a long political and social struggle.

Through dedicated and sincere efforts, Aurat March has managed to mainstream the issue of the political rights of people with disabilities. Not only that, Aurat March set a precedent of executing an event which was holistically inclusive and accessible.


Outlining a pathway for the future, they mentioned that, “Going forward, Karachi’s politicians and public planners really need to recognise the cost of poorly planned infrastructure, and all the physical and procedural impediments they put up in the name of security — excluding the public from the very spaces that belong to them while also severely limiting the movement of PWDs in society. For example, our ramps were only temporary, but imagine how much better it would be if officials made Frere Hall permanently wheelchair accessible?”

Special Assistant to Chief Minister Sindh on Disability Mr Syed Qassim Naveed Qamar also praised the efforts made by Aurat March’s team for the inclusion of people with disabilities.

"I thought it was amazing. I was proud of the fact that this was done in the province of Sindh and that too in collaboration with government’s partner organisation, NOWPDP (Network of Organisations Working with Persons with Disabilities). I think that human rights issues must be inclusive of all marginalised communities: including people with disabilities.”

Mr. Qamar also reiterated his and government of Sindh’s support for the Aurat March and the message of inclusion and empowerment it stood for.

Marching for inclusion, accessibility and equality

Dua Mangi & Friend — Source: online
Dua Mangi & Friend — Source: online

NOWPDP, a disability inclusion initiative, and Aurat March’s partner in inclusion and accessibility played an important role in ensuring effective implementation of the plan. Omair Ahmad, Executive Director of NOWPDP, commented that, “We feel it is our responsibility to strive for the effective representation of disabilities at all forums that highlight disenfranchisement, particularly because in an already patriarchal world, women with disabilities are even more marginalised.”

Through dedicated and sincere efforts, Aurat March has managed to mainstream the issue of the political rights of people with disabilities. Not only that, Aurat March set a precedent of executing an event which was holistically inclusive and accessible.

The rights of people with disabilities were made part of the nine-point Charter of Demands of Aurat March, the rights of people with disabilities were also covered in the ABC of Aurat March — a social media campaign highlighting the A to Z of what the march stands for.

Pakistan has a long way to go before it becomes an inclusive society for all, but Aurat March is a good start! We must march on, for inclusion, accessibility, and equality.


Moreover, a video in sign language was released from Aurat March’s social media platforms as a call of participation for the Deaf community. Women with disabilities were also represented in Aurat March’s annual video. This well-managed and efficiently executed social media mobilization campaign resulted in the on-ground accessibility and significant participation of people with disabilities.

The AtoZ of AuratMarch includes 'Persons with disabilities — AM Instagram
The AtoZ of AuratMarch includes 'Persons with disabilities — AM Instagram

The fact that Frere Hall, one of the few public spaces in Karachi, is inaccessible to people with disabilities says a lot about the standards of accessibility and inclusion in our country.

However, the efforts of Aurat March has shown that it is not impossible to take a space and turn it into an inclusive one. An access ramp might be a matter of a few inches only, but for wheelchair users, it is what differentiates between exclusion and inclusion.

Similarly, the presence of sign language interpreters at events and subtitled videos on the internet ensure that our message is accessible to people with hearing disabilities.

Pakistan has a long way to go before it becomes an inclusive society for all, but Aurat March is a good start! We must march on, for inclusion, accessibility, and equality.


Header image: Aurat March Poster — @meat_eating.orchids, Instagram