The slogan for this year’s Aurat March on International Women’s Day (March 8) is Ujrat, Tahaffuz Aur Sukoon. This was said by renowned artist and social worker Sheema Kermani at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Thursday evening.
Ms Kermani said this year’s will be the fifth Aurat March. She on behalf of the women of the country thanked the media for supporting their cause, giving them coverage which encourages the women. This time around a lot of workers and labourers will be seen. “We think the hard work that women do goes unrecognised and unacknowledged.”
After her speech, an organiser of the march put forward the three central demands saying that the march is dedicated to the labour and hard work of women and khawajasira.
The demands are:
1: All workers, whether they’re working in factories, on farms and homesteads, in homes as domestic workers or as sanitation workers be given a living wage based on access to safe housing, quality education and affordable healthcare for themselves and their families. As a first step immediate reinforcement of the minimum wage across all sectors, and for all actors who refuse this to be fined under the law.
2: The provision of social security and protection through monthly stipends for all women and khawajasira community in view of the care labour they perform and economic violence they are subjected to.
3: The state prioritise the welfare of the child by putting an end to child labour, trafficking for work, and bonded labour. The government should provide childcare and protection centres and child support services in every district of Karachi and in the rest of Sindh.
After the demands were outlined, the women sitting alongside Ms Kermani spoke. Ghazala Shafique said although she belonged to the Christian community, she’s participating in the conference as a Pakistani woman. She talked about domestic workers’ plight. She said there should be daycare centres for the workers where they could leave their children while they’re at work since their wages are extremely low. She narrated a disturbing story of a girl whose mother left her at someone’s place for safety but there she was asked to change her faith. Also, an old man asked the 12-year-old to marry him in order to get security. “The girl wanted to be a doctor but her dreams were snatched from her.” She urged the authorities to declare domestic workers labourer. Unfortunately, domestic workers are earning as dismal an amount as Rs8,000 a month and their girls get molested.
Ms Bilqees, a domestic worker said she gets paid Rs2,500 for the work she puts in. “Even when I fall sick, they say to me, aunty kaam ker ke jao.”
Fatima Majeed, who belongs to the fisher folk community, said the women of her community also get exploited. She demanded social security for them.
Rehana, a textile worker, said more than half of the workers who work in the industrial sector are women. They’re sometimes also asked to do work from home. She said men are paid more than women in factories. She mentioned incidents of sexual harassment faced by women in factories, adding that the laws regarding wages and sexual harassment must be implemented.
Pushpa Kumari, representing the Hindu community, said she would speak about tahaffuz (safety or security) and pointed out that the women belonging to the minorities don’t feel safe. She spoke about the conversions taking place in Sindh and demanded that the state provide them with security.
Zehrish Khanzadi representing the transgender community said they live in a country where God gave them life but society doesn’t give them respect.
Representatives of sanitation workers and nurses also spoke.
Originally published in Dawn, February 25th, 2022