Authorities ban Women's Day march in Pakistan's Lahore
Authorities in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore have refused permission for a rally to mark International Women's Day, which regularly meets a fierce backlash in the conservative, patriarchal country.
Marches have been held in major cities all over Pakistan since 2018 to bring attention to women's rights.
Lahore city authorities cited the "controversial cards and banners" commonly displayed by participants in the march and security concerns as reasons behind the decision, which were laid out in a notification to march organisers late Friday.
Counter-protests dubbed "Haya (modesty)" marches are commonly staged by religious groups to call for the preservation of Islamic values.
The denial of NOC cites the ‘Haya March’ by the JI as the reason for denial. The DC herself acknowledges that the Jamaat has “announced a program against the Aurat March”, yet it is the March that is being denied its constitutional right, not the group inciting violence.— عورت مارچ لاہور - Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) March 3, 2023
"It's a violation of our rights. This raises questions about the state's ability to manage the right to freedom of assembly for both groups," Hiba Akbar, an organiser for Aurat (women's) March Lahore, told AFP.
Lahore authorities have allowed this year's Haya March to be held despite the ban on the Aurat March.
Organisers of the Aurat March in Pakistan have frequently had to resort to legal action to counter attempts to ban it.
The Aurat March rallies have courted controversy because of banners and placards waved by participants that raise subjects such as divorce, sexual harassment and menstruation.
Organisers and participants have been accused of promoting Western, liberal values and disrespecting religious and cultural sensitivities.
Much of Pakistani society operates under a strict code of "honour," systemising the oppression of women in matters such as the right to choose who to marry, reproductive rights and even the right to an education.
Hundreds of women are killed by men in Pakistan each year over "honour".
Rights group Amnesty International said the Lahore decision "amounts to an unlawful and unnecessary restriction of the right to assembly".
🇵🇰 Pakistan: Amnesty International is dismayed with the decision of the Lahore district administration to refuse permission for the @AuratMarch citing, “controversial cards and banners for awareness of women’s rights” amongst other reasons. (1/3)— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) March 3, 2023
Authorities in the capital Islamabad, citing security concerns, have relegated the Aurat March to a city park where a woman was gang raped in February.
"We are a feminist movement, we will not be in parks but rather on the streets," a statement by march organisers there said.
In 2020, groups of hardline Islamist men turned up in vans and hurled stones at women participating in the Aurat March.
Women have long fought for basic rights in Pakistan, where activists say men commit "pervasive and intractable" violence against them.