Excluded and invisible: Women at the Azadi March

As men march on, women continue to face barriers in the realm of politics

Tehreem M Alam November 01, 2019
PHOTO: TWITTER/@aaminsann

The Azadi March, spearheaded by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), has finally reached Islamabad, with the streets of the capital echoing with chants of ‘Azaadi’. But the crescendo suffers from a conspicuous absence: the voice of women.

In the first week of October, the country's local media, citing sources, claimed that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had barred women from participating in the march. The reports added that the same had been conveyed to other opposition parties - including the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Being a religio-political party, it is no surprise that the party's women cadre have been asked to stay back. For the party's rank and file, who grow up in an environment that focuses on the segregation of the genders, this is how things should be.

But it can have a pernicious effect as one journalist of AAJ TV found.

On being asked about the absence of women from the march, a holier-than-thou marcher, purportedly a member of JUI-F's banned wing Ansarul Islam, said what separated JUI-F from other political parties was that the men in the party always stood up for the rights of their women.

"Our women, who are sitting at home, will agree that the menfolk represent them," he told the bemused reporter as can be seen in the clip shared by journalist Gharida Farooqi.


The situation took a turn for the worse when the JUI-F workers and participants of the march, taking cue from the situation, started causing trouble for the female journalists covering the event.

Nadia Suleman from BBC Urdu claimed she was harassed by the participants of Azadi March. She was insulted and asked to leave the premises where the crowd had gathered. She said, "A volunteer in khaki uniform insulted me, said my presence is destroying the march."

Another female reporter from Independent Urdu took to Twitter and wrote about how JUI-F workers had stopped her from covering the march in Karachi.

“I have been covering politics for some time now, but never in my journalistic career have I been barred from covering an event. I went to cover JUI #AzaadiMarch earlier this morning. JUI security personnel asked me to leave because I was a woman.”

Another journalist, Shiffa Z. Yousafzai, penned down her experience of being barred from the march and said some men started yelling at her, saying women weren’t allowed.

“While giving the intro a man came and started saying women aren’t allowed, women CANNOT be here. Leave! Slowly but in a minute’s time a crowd of men encircled us and started chanting the slogans, we had to leave but they kept coming after us in huge crowds making sure that I leave”


The tweets not only had social media up in arms, it also provided government leaders to take potshots at their rivals.

Former Finance Minister Asad Umar took to Twitter to call out the opposition over the exclusion of women from the march.

"One thing is clear from what has been seen of the opposition march so far.... Their vision of Pakistan is one where women have no place in the public space."

Minister of Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, known for jumping into the fray, launched a scathing attack on the opposition-led rally.

“A group of otherwise liberals is blinded by Imran Khan hate and supporting extremists march on Islamabad, any success to such marchers ll mean end of Pak as democratic regime and a formation of Taliban style Govt ! Beware”

The incumbent government’s de facto spokesperson Firdous Ashiq Awan also shared her views on the bigotry faced by female journalists.

“The fanatical extremist mindset of democracy has hit the rights of more than half of Pakistan's population, including women. The March administration reminded women anchors and reporters of the Stone Age by not allowing coverage.”


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