With just less than a month left for the International Women’s Day to be marked on March 8 by activists and civil society across Pakistan, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri has penned a rather odd letter to the prime minister. In his letter, Qadri has urged the premier to mark the day as what he termed the International Hijab Day to not only show solidarity to the hijab ban in Indian state of Karnataka but also claimed that the Aurat March held across Pakistan went “against the teachings of Islam”. The minister has urged PM Imran Khan to ban ‘anti-Islam’ slogans during the march. Perhaps Qadri must then also elaborate on what exactly are these ‘anti-Islam’ slogans.
It must be noted that just a week ago a mentally ill man was tortured to death with his body hung on a tree by an angry mob over allegations of blasphemy in Mian Channu district of Khanewal. Prior to this, scores of cases have been reported in these pages alone of violence against women as well as minorities in the country. But neither of these issues had elicited a response addressed to the premier from the minister. This is not to say that these incidents had not been condemned by the government functionaries nor that solidarity with the Indian Muslim girls’ being deprived of their right to education for adorning a hijab should not be shown. But the timing of this letter and its content only reiterates the lack of women’s rights Aurat March has been highlighting in the past few years.
Our patriarchal system’s need to control women and their actions as much as what slogans they should carry or not, on a day internationally celebrated for them, only further violates the rights they have, which in fact, have been given in the country’s constitution. At a time, when the minister should work towards promoting interfaith harmony – as not all women in this country adhere to the Islamic values he has stated – such statements can only further polarize it or pose a threat to a segment already marginalized in this country. Activists behind the organization of the march have done credible work for the welfare of women in the absence of the government, their work should not be undermined by such statements.