Redefining masculinity: Men at the Aurat March on their role in ending systemic discrimination

Redefining masculinity: Men at the Aurat March on their role in ending systemic discrimination

Being an ally is about more than simply turning up — it's about acknowledging your privilege and demanding a future where equality reigns supreme.
09 Mar, 2024

As the world geared up to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, Karachi witnessed yet another electrifying spectacle — women participating in the Aurat March in all their unapologetic, unabashed brazenness at Frere Hall on Friday. But what was surprising, yet refreshing, was the presence of men among the attendees.

And so the question resurfaced with renewed vigour — where do men stand in the fight for women’s rights? Are they doing enough? Are they well-meaning supporters or just mere spectators on the sidelines? Do they have the empathy required to be effective allies — knowing when to speak up and when to step back?

We approached some men at the Aurat March to understand their motivations for joining the protest, explore how they envision themselves as allies to the cause, and hear an overarching message they wish to convey to other men through their presence about what masculinity truly means.

It’s time we bid farewell to patriarchy

“When I look around, I see every face in this crowd bearing the imprint of determination,” Muhammad Hamza, 24, a student at Indus Valley, told Images. “Women are here to march as a testament to the ongoing struggle for fair wages, for equal rights. It’s 2024 and they still have to discuss the grasp of patriarchy in their daily lives through such protests. This is a reminder that systemic barriers still exist,” he lamented.

“Patriarchal norms have long attempted to confine women within the walls of their households. But women refuse to be held back. They refuse to be silenced. They should have never even had to plead for basic autonomy over their bodies, for the right to choose when and if to start a family, and for freedom from marital abuse. Yet, here they are, doing just that. And no one can stop their force anymore.”

 Muhammad Hamza, a 24-year-old student who studies at Indus Valley School of Art and architecture
Muhammad Hamza, a 24-year-old student who studies at Indus Valley School of Art and architecture

Hamza implored fellow men to understand that true masculinity isn’t about dominating or suppressing others; it’s about standing in solidarity, amplifying the voices of those who have been marginalised. “It’s about recognising that our liberation is intertwined with the liberation of all genders,” he said.

“So today, as I march alongside these courageous women, I reaffirm my commitment to their cause. Because in supporting them, I’m not just championing their rights — I’m reaffirming my own humanity,” he said.

Collectively, we can move mountains

Saad Rabbani, who works at an organisation dedicated to community development, was also at the march. “The Aurat March is not just a movement — it’s a long-overdue outcry against the injustices that have plagued Pakistan for as long as one can imagine. This march isn’t merely about women’s rights — it’s a bold stand against the pervasive evils that stain our society,” he explained.

“If you read the manifestos of any Aurat March, you’ll find it pulsating with the most fundamental of human rights issues,” Rabbani said. For him, it is because we shy away from discussing these issues in our homes, institutions, and policies that the Aurat March is so crucial. It forces us to confront uncomfortable truths and spark conversations that desperately need to be had.

 Saad Rabbani, a marcher who works for company that is in affiliation with community development
Saad Rabbani, a marcher who works for company that is in affiliation with community development

He was eager to add that the responsibility lies with women to engage in this movement, but more so with men to not simply acknowledge but actively attempt to dismantle the structures of sexism that have held our society captive for far too long. “It’s time for us to accept the reality — we have unjustly denied women their basic rights for too long. These are not the times for complacency; these are the times for change.”

His final message was that the “Aurat March is not just a protest; it’s a call to action. It’s a powerful reminder that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the inequalities that poison our society. It’s time to stand shoulder to shoulder, women and men alike, and demand a future where equality reigns supreme.”

Listen to the women

Sameer Alam, a 25-year-old graduate, came to the protest with his aunt and nieces. “Every year, I’m asked the same question: why am I here? Why have I come to march? And my response remains the same. In a society inundated with male voices, I firmly believe that it’s the duty of men to fall silent and stand behind in solidarity. The truth is, there are enough male voices out there already shaping narratives, leading the discourse, and it’s about time we change that,” he commented.

He emphasised that the most impactful contribution men can make is to simply, genuinely, and wholeheartedly listen. “Men need to set aside their egos and pride and introspect on how they can pragmatically leverage the power they hold to uplift women,” he stated.

 Sameer Alam, a 25-year-old recent graduate who studied film
Sameer Alam, a 25-year-old recent graduate who studied film

“So, I march and urge other men to march not to drown out the voices of women, but to amplify them. I march so we can collectively challenge the status quo, demand accountability from the perpetrators of violence against those oppressed, and contribute in our small way to a cause that is bigger than all of us.”

In case you still don’t understand, men benefit from the movement too!

A 59-year-old teacher, Razi Imam, attended the protest with his daughter Amna. “In my view, feminism isn’t solely a concern for women; it’s equally relevant for men. Take, for example, the horrifying reality of honour killings — referred to as karo-kari in Urdu, which literally translates to ‘blackened man and blackened woman.’ Here, half of the term pertains to men. Men, too, fall victim to these atrocities in the name of honour.”

Imam added that there are toxic societal expectations imposed on men from a young age. A boy who shows vulnerability by crying after a fall is often met with dismissive remarks like, “Boys don’t cry” or “You’re a strong boy you can deal with a fall.” This illustrates that the problematic conditioning of how a man is supposed to act begins early on.

He was keen to add that women attaining their rights is not a separate issue from men gaining theirs. In fact, by supporting these causes, men alleviate themselves of burdensome societal expectations — such as suppressing emotions, being the sole breadwinner, or constantly maintaining a facade of strength. By letting their female counterparts take centre stage and supporting them as they do so, men improve the quality of their own lives too.

He stressed how perplexing it is that society continues to view men and women as distinct “species”, adhering to strict binaries and differentiating between them. Even biologically, the disparity boils down to a mere chromosome or two. How have we come to let such insignificant variances dictate how we treat each other?

 Razi Imam, a teacher, who attended the march with his daughter Amna
Razi Imam, a teacher, who attended the march with his daughter Amna

This is a matter of awareness and cultural transformation, said Imam. “We must adopt a cultural feminist approach; instill values within our children from a tender age which teach them that women are as capable of doing everything as men. Progress is underway; movements like these protests signify a shift, with today’s children displaying increased awareness and political activism. So, yes, we may have come a long way but we have much, much longer to go,” he added.

His concluding words were that men ought to stand alongside their female counterparts — be it their wives, mothers, or daughters — supporting, motivating, encouraging, and fighting alongside them. “Only if we work together will we be able to dismantle the barriers of gender inequality and create a world where every individual, irrespective of gender, is treated with dignity and respect.”

Engaging with these men, one thing is crystal clear: understanding what true masculinity entails isn’t rocket science — it’s about willingly taking a backseat to make room for women’s voices to be heard. A lot of men grasp this concept instinctively. But if you find yourself struggling to wrap your head around an idea as simple as this, perhaps it’s time to confront the uncomfortable truth — you are a part of the problem.


Syed Hasni Mar 09, 2024 06:18pm
Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other. It consists in deeds not words. Mahatma Gandhi Kudos to these men!
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Laila Mar 09, 2024 06:34pm
When women can be patriarchal and misogynists, of course men can be supportive of women, feminists, allies. The problem is the opponents of AM don't understand and do not wish to understand. They casually thrown about words like liberal, feminist as insults but if asked about the history and definition of said words, they will struggle to answer. Ignorance even along the so-called educated (parhay likhay jahils) is disturbing.
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Ahmed Mar 09, 2024 07:08pm
These men have achieved nothing. Just showing up has no value. Zero plus zero will always be zero no matter how many zeros are added.
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Ehsan Mar 09, 2024 07:40pm
No one will give rights unless we stand and demand them
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Samina Rehman Mar 09, 2024 07:46pm
Wow... good job, men can learn alot from them
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Owais Khan Mar 10, 2024 06:54pm
Just wasting time do some work for the real oppressed .
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Laila Mar 12, 2024 07:54pm
@Ahmed That's your opinion. Change happens slowly. But the first step is by starting to speak up and take initiatives. It starts from within you, me and all of us before we can demand it of others. Are you suggesting people do nothing and just let things be? Showing up has value. Just watch the international protests for Palestine.
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Laila Mar 12, 2024 07:56pm
@ Owais Khan Standing up for what you believe does matter. First step to change. How do you know they don't do 'real work'? Is protesting alongside or on behalf of women not masculine in your opinion? What work do you do for the oppressed?
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Urooj Mar 14, 2024 08:47pm
There's a totally wrong concept that Women want Freedom from a man. We think that in this Capitalist system They both have to face oppression... Their Freedom is completely connected with a classless society..
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