Women defy protest ban with march in Pakistan

Women take part in protest march in Lahore, Pakistan, on International Women’s Day despite ban on demonstrations.
Women take part in protest march in Lahore, Pakistan, on International Women’s Day despite ban on demonstrations.

The police did their best to keep women from demonstrating on International Women’s Day in Pakistan’s capital, Lahore.

They used shipping containers to cordon off the road leading to the meet-up point for the demonstrators in Islamabad. Then they created another smaller cordon around the field where the protesters intended to gather.

That didn’t stop the women.

Dozens made it to the demonstration, singing, clapping and chanting: “Women have woken up!”

They knew all the back routes to get to the protest. Because this wasn’t the first time the police have tried to prevent the march. A police crackdown has happened, to some degree, every March 8 for the past five years, when Pakistani feminists across the country first began holding protest marches on International Women’s Day to demand equal rights.

But their slogans, like “my body, my choice,” are red meat for conservatives – including state institutions like the police. They see the protesters as un-Islamic.

And nearly every year, there are counter-protests by other women.

The women’s day march in Islamabad this year attracted members of leftist parties, cisgender women and trans women.

“It’s the clerics,” said one trans woman, Dua Aly, who linked arms with a friend at the march. “They don’t want to give us equal rights, even though Islam calls for women to have equal rights.”