How many men are too many men at Aurat March?

How many men are too many men at Aurat March?

Allyship is important but I witnessed men taking up space on a day that wasn't about or for them.
Updated 17 Mar, 2020

Video banana mana hai! Phone neechay karein! Poochhay baghair video nahi bana saktay! Neechay karein!” yelled an Aurat March organiser at men outside the Frere Hall.

I turned to see a man making a video of the women standing in line at the entrance. I felt the organiser’s fury; it brought back memories of times when men in public spaces had taken non-consensual photos of me.

I quickly made my way inside to avoid a repeat of the past.

As I entered, the mood changed. The energy was festive, joyous and charged; #behenchara in full swing. An apt representation of placard ‘Aaj waqai maa behen aik ho rahay hain.’

Relief. This was familiar. This was safe.

Men also stepped up and came to support the movement. Unlike in the previous years, more men showed up -- a sign, I hoped, meant we were moving in the right direction.

Soon the crowd burgeoned and with it the number of men. In less than an hour, the park swarmed with more men than I was comfortable around; many of them marginalised, some allies – but a lot who had come to satisfy their lust.

Having learnt from experience, I knew clusters of men near women was usually not a good sign. My panic got the better of me and I cautiously restricted my movement to the periphery of the main crowd, sticking closer to my group of friends -- better to maintain distance than elbow and brush past men, regardless of their intent.

People stopped by for pictures and my friend promptly raised her poster. I stood at a distance, not wanting to be captured.

Seconds later I noticed a man, his arm outstretched, casually making our video. I shielded my face and firmly told him, “Video mat banaein,” naive enough to believe that he would respect consent and put his phone away.

He didn’t flinch. He didn’t even look up. He continued making the video, unstirred. His face covered behind his phone while I stood violated, my body for him to consume without my consent.

It was unnerving. I was back to my everyday reality and once again a permanent memory in a stranger's phone.


In another part of Frere Hall, Shahzadi Feriha, a trans woman and her friends were also trying to protect themselves from harassment.

When the organisers signalled the crowd to gather for the march, a man approached Shahzadi and started making conversation. A few moments later, he inched closer.

Dur hato,” warned Shahzadi and walked away.

She made her way towards the policemen on duty. She and her friends felt safer around them. As the crowd thinned, the trans women called their car to leave.

The man followed Shahzadi and said something to her. She signalled the policemen to grab him but he ran away.

The man then started following her friends as they moved around the park and verbally abused them, forcing them to go back and stand with the police.

When their car arrived, the women got ready to leave but before Shahzadi could sit inside, the man walked up to her and said, “What is your problem? Who do you think you are? You’re not a woman. Stop doing this march for the trans community.”

Shahzadi grabbed his hand to take him to the police, he responded with a punch to her hand and a kick to her leg. Shahzadi and her friends retaliated and hit him back. It ended up with both parties getting injured.


In Islamabad’s Aurat March, Elia Rathore and her sister watched Ismat Shahjahan give her speech on stage when a man came and stood next to her and another, behind her 11-year-old sister.

Elia placed her leg behind her sister to prevent the man from coming closer but the man kept moving forward. She told the man to move back, he only stared in return. She repeated herself, “Ap hat jaein, please!”, he pretended to have not heard.

Elia turned to the man next to her for assistance who then forced the man to move but that didn’t stop him from attempting to come close again. Elia then stood in front of the man as a wall between him and her sister to keep him away.

In another instance, she noticed two men ogling young girls while laughing and rubbing their bellies. One of them tried to get close to one of the girls.

Ap kya dekh rahay hain?” Elia said to him annoyed, to which the man laughed and moved away. She took out her phone and started taking his pictures; at first he laughed, then fearing the consequences he covered his face and turned away.

It was now time for the march. The organisers moved the women to the front, next to the tent that separated JUI-F’s March. The men were asked to move to the back but many refused, some making videos of the women in the front without their consent.

Within seconds the JUI-F tore down the barrier and attacked the Aurat March, pelting the crowd with bricks and stones. Elia, her sister and her friends who were standing next to the barrier, panicked and ran as fast as possible to save themselves from the attack.

In the commotion a man came up behind one of Elia’s friends, groped her entire body and said, “Ap pareshan mat huwein, mein ap ka khayal rakhoon ga.”

As soon as the people around noticed what was happening, he ran away.


In another part of the Islamabad march, a woman and her sister attended the event for the first time.

They felt unsafe. There were too many men around, especially in the main crowd without any inclination to move, not allowing women ease of mobility.

When they walked to the side for some air, her sister noticed a man leering at the woman, his eyes moving down to her ass. Fixated. She called him out, “Kya dekh rahay ho?”. The woman turned around and realised the man was standing uncomfortably close behind her staring at her ass. He replied, “Kuch nahi,” and turned his face away.

Kya baat hai? Aurat March pey aa key aurton ko taro gay?” her sister retorted. He laughed and looked away.


As a woman who attended the Aurat March, I did not leave feeling 'Mera Jism Meri Marzi'. Unfortunately, neither did the multiple women I spoke to.

It's distressing that our experience was tainted by lecherous men; men who view womxn's bodies as public property, the very men from whom we seek azaadi.

The Aurat March is a significant demonstration of public resistance and mobility; it gives us a platform to express ourselves and be heard. It allows womxn, trans and non-binary people to lower their guard without fear of judgement or hate. It brings us together publicly in our struggle for rights. It creates a sense of security where we can reclaim public spaces without the threat of sexual harassment. It gives us ownership of narrative, body and space.

It is meant to be safe. It is meant to liberate the marginalised, yet in some major cities the march was hijacked by men who claim to be our 'protectors'. Men who came to forcefully take back our access to a public space because protesting for our rights on the roads was 'asking for it'; much like when we step out to go to festivals, concerts, cafes and the streets. Rest assured, they'll even 'put us in our place' in our homes.

They have dictated womxn's place in society, while asserting their own access and freedom to all domains of society.

And the Aurat March challenges that.

So when the crowd at this year's march was majority men (at least where I was standing), I felt my anxiety rising and immediately wished my male friends had accompanied me to the event.

It's ironic that I responded with needing men to protect me from men at an event that was meant to liberate me.

I'm then left to question the role of men in a place like Aurat March and to what extent their participation in a space for the marginalised damages and/or champions the movement.


Arsha Mar 16, 2020 12:08pm
Sad! And yet women will be told that they are spoiling the culture , they will be told to uphold haya. And men who would say these things would be afraid to stand up to their friends or brothers when they invade women’s space
Kamran Mar 16, 2020 12:51pm
We are in the midst of unprecedented catastrophe and you people are still not getting it???
rafiq Mar 16, 2020 01:11pm
Disappointing article. If a wife wants her husband to support and join why should she ask you?
Jamal Mar 16, 2020 02:21pm
How about watching some Jordan Peterson videos and what he has to say about the patriarchy. Women claiming to be liberals should have an open and positive mindset; and not something that only sees evil all around.
Patel D Mar 16, 2020 03:07pm
What was police doing? It seems that police was not doing their duty proactively. They act only when requested and had no interest in catching the mischief makers. How can they not enforce JUF-I to behave and force them keep comfortable distance away from women? Is police not afraid of government's disciplinary actions for failing to do the job?
Andromeda Mar 16, 2020 03:24pm
I do not agree with her. Banning male gender in Aurat March is not a solution as this article negate the struggle of men who played a key role in the event. Only pointing out few examples is not fair. You should atleast give one example of kindness instead of blaming everyone. Very very depressing piece of article.
Guest Mar 16, 2020 04:06pm
Please don't try to take credit where it's not due. Public spaces were occupied by women in 2014 at D-Chowk Islamabad for 126 days straight where they freely indulged in traditional dances in defiance and were broadcast to the entire country without fear. They also came out in record numbers on the streets and in Imran Khan's political rallies in different small cities during the Dharna. Point being that is is incorrect to think that Aurat March is the 1st time in Pakistan's history that women have taken public spaces.
A Sanjrani Mar 16, 2020 05:17pm
One is entitled to take a viseo/picture, as long as it is a public and not a private place.
Pops Mar 16, 2020 05:37pm
From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. Guru Nanak Dev Ji
BrownFlower Mar 16, 2020 10:02pm
I think this should be given a rest, given the thing going on with Corona.
Samia Mar 17, 2020 12:29am
There is a need to declass the Aurat March and the broader movement for women rights in Pakistan. Pieces like these - although not propagating anything wrong - just don't help it.
Taj Mar 17, 2020 07:37am
10,000 men
Laila Mar 17, 2020 10:45am
@rafiq either you didn't really read the article or you deliberately veered off with creating strawman arguments. Where in the article does it say, a woman wanting her husband to support her at the march should ask other women participants? Rather it speaks of many men attending the march with the purpose of not supporting but invading women's safe space to sexually harass them by staring at them, objectifying them, grope them, even going after children, making videos of them or taking pictures of them with without their permission/consent? How did you miss all of this? Why even comment on an article when you already have your mind made up from the title of the words women march? It's very sad and an indictment of our culture, that you don't address the valid concerns raised and harassment. Don't be part of the problem, but be part of the solution. A husband supporting those women or the march wouldn't harass and take unwanted pictures and videos of them in the first place.
Laila Mar 17, 2020 10:55am
@Patel D the police is hopeless. Part of a corrupt system. Pictures and videos show the passiveness and slow/delayed handling of clear and open harassment, people just crossing the barriers and violence. They were probably told from by their superiors to just do nothing (after all theytried to take away the March's constitutional rights to march by actually demanding they not use the much discussed slogans and appeasing their opponents). That will teach the women a lesson. No protection = less motivation to pursue their cause. How dare women and participants expect to be protected and safe in our "Islamic" state. The change is needed at all levels, socially, politically, economically and legally. Unfortunately that's not possible until corruption ends. I don't see it ending.
Laila Mar 17, 2020 11:12am
THIS! This is why many women want to claim their rights and bodies because they are tired of being harassed. Even a march they can't have in peace and yet ignorant critics ask why are they marching, for what rights? Right to congregate without being harassed. This article made me cry. Because it happens to most, if not all, of us females despite age and dress, when we step outside. From the shameless persistent staring, to having photos and videos taken of us, just because we happen to be in public as females. It is about the struggle of wanting to protect yourself as a woman but also as a child. The child in the article was 11 and the older sister putting her leg between her sister and the predator man, is not unfamiliar territory. Females of this soil, the nation of the pure, should be safe. Yet we are not. Ladies: next time when somebody harasses you in public, turn your camera on them in their face. Document it, call them out. The real men of Pakistan: support and defend us.
Ak18dar Mar 17, 2020 07:20pm
So basically, for all your claims of equality, liberation and freedom, ultimately you need men to protect you from men...
HashBrown® Mar 18, 2020 05:12am
@Jamal "How about watching some Jordan Peterson videos and what he has to say about the patriarchy." LOL, Jordan Peterson? He is a poster boy for the fringe right-wing Trump support base, which is characterised by bigoted racism and unabashed misogyny. Sorry dude, the fact that you've cited this clown as a reference suggests you're part of the problem more than part of the solution.
Laila Mar 18, 2020 07:03am
@Samia so this is what you take away from this article? Declass their movement and constitutional rights? The harassment is justified? Very disappointing. V
Laila Mar 18, 2020 03:48pm
@Guest sure but you seem to miss the point of the article. Were women's rallies and marches also invaded by men seeking to harass, grope, degrade women back then in 2014? I think we need to stop beating around the bush and face the issues. We can't keep denying there are issues deeply embedded in our culture and society that needs to be addressed.
Laila Mar 19, 2020 12:00pm
@Samia declass the Aurat March? Why? And why is it not OK to write pieces exposing the sexual harassment of our females and even children which sadly happens daily in our society? How is not writing about it going to help? Denial won't solve issues, only allow them to spread and destroy.
Laila Mar 19, 2020 12:04pm
@Ak18dar you don't seem to understand what is meant by equality. Equality doesn't mean women become men and vice versa. It's means equality in terms of rights, liberties - socially, economically, legally etc. This really isn't that hard to understand, unless of course you don't want to. Also real men don't harass or touch women. Real men keep their hands and eyes to themselves. And yes, real men exist.