People watching on TV with baited-breath Tahirul Qadri’s ‘million men’ march that streamed into the federal capital late Monday, many could notice the unusually large number of women and children among the participants.
They will camp out on the main Jinnah Avenue and streets until their demands are met. They waited for Minhajul Quran International (MQI) chief Tahirul Qadri to arrive, waving flags, chanting slogans and calling for ‘change’.
Over 2,000 women sat on the road with blankets draped around them, some holding their young ones while others distributing dry fruit among themselves. “We will stay here even if it takes a month. Enough is enough. We want change,” was the common mantra among the women.
Rehmat Noor, a 60-year-old who had come from Kamra in Attock District, about 60 kilometres west of Islamabad, is a mother of 11. “The inflation and energy crisis has broken our back because of the faulty policies of this government,” she said. “My children are educated but couldn’t find a job; the corrupt system does not allow people like us to have equal opportunity,” Noor lamented.
Another family from Rawalpindi had come to represent the Shia community. “We are here to show solidarity with Allama Qadri. He took a stand for us,” said Qudsia Rizvi, a student.
“We all have brought our first aid kits and even packed salt packets to use in case tear gas is used,” she said while showing a packet of salt.
Food distribution seemed orderly, as the women activists distributed qeema naans and water.
However, while most women said they were willing to brave the harsh weather to bring ‘change’, having to walk a bit to go use the bathroom was not something they were happy about.
“There was a mosque we were going to, but it has been closed. Some mobile washrooms have been set up, but they are a long walk away. There should have been proper facility for us. Imagine what the women with children will have to go through,” said Zehra Raza, who had come from Mianwali.
The organisers seemed to have ignored garbage collection, and with no proper disposal system, some mothers could be seen changing their babies diapers in the open and leaving the used diapers on the roadside.
However, not everyone was there in high spirits. Jamila Bibi sat forlorn in a corner with her three children and only a bag full of uncooked flour to get them through the dharna. “I’m only here because my husband forced me to come. We are poor and desperate, but he felt this was the time to come out. I’m unwell and have had five operations. I am in no condition to be sitting here, but what can a woman do?”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.