During Aurat March and International Women’s day (March 8), many opinions formed and many wars fought on social media platforms. However, amidst all the chaos, have we forgotten why the march was conducted, and what international women’s day stands for? It seems that feminism is being bashed left and right, and nobody seems to be talking about the root issues that encompass the females of our society today.

Instead of talking about the main issues, we are obsessed with villainizing groups of people by placing blame on them. Having said that, what is Aurat March? What is international women’s day? Most importantly, what are the issues that we really need to face as a society?               

When we speak about international women’s day, we cannot forget about feminism. The two go hand in hand. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma in our society regarding feminism. Many simply do not understand what being a feminist entails, while others have met pseudo-feminists and decided to form opinions against the entire ideology. Being a feminist, contrary to popular belief, is not a bad thing. The term feminist was coined in the West in the 19th century. However, if you trace history, there are multiple examples of feminists in the East even prior to that.

A feminist is a person who advocates for women’s rights and equality. There is nothing wrong or evil around this thinking. Our beloved prophet, Muhammad (PBUH) talked about equality and women’s rights himself. Believe it or not, but by definition, he was a feminist. Women had basic rights during our prophet’s (PBUH) time. They worked outside their homes, like his first wife, and they stayed at home as well (like his other wives). Now the question is that if feminism is so simple and great in its ideology, then how did the stigma form?

A feminist is a person who advocates for women’s rights and equality. There is nothing wrong or evil around this thinking. Our beloved prophet, Muhammad (PBUH) talked about equality and women’s rights himself.

Unfortunately, the modern feminist seems to have forgotten what is being advocated for. It is unfair to say that all modern feminists have forgotten the root issues, but many have indeed forgotten and have represented feminism as annoying or hateful by their behavior. Feminism is not about whether women should work outside their homes or not. It is not about whether women should have families or not. Feminism is about giving choice and equality to all women to choose how they want to live their lives.

Many feminists look down upon women who choose to be homemakers, forgetting that that the whole point of feminism is to allow the woman to choose how she wants to live her life. Instead of villainizing females for being homemakers, let’s support those women equally as we would support the women that choose to work outside their homes. Remember to be a human before you become a feminist.

When speaking of women’s rights, the natural instinct is to blame a group of people for taking away their rights in the first place. Men are often blamed for being anti-feminists or misogynists. Although men are not completely free of blame, it is unfair to blame an entire sex for all the problems women face.

Sisters- can we stop for a moment and check ourselves? How many of us are actually supporting each other? I’m not sure which females need to hear these simple words, but here they are: You are more than just your body parts. Women, you have a soul, a heart, and a way of thinking. Your outer appearance is not your only asset to get ahead in life.

The fact is that no society is clean of men who think that it is okay to be misogynistic. If men in power shut down approaches from women who use their appearances to compete for jobs, these women would eventually face the consequences and stop behaving in such ways. Because men in power judge women based on appearance and not on merit, it reinforces the idea that women have to act in provocative ways to get ahead in any field.

However, it is still important to form a strong sisterhood. Once our sisterhood beaks, men can easily divide and rule over us. It is high time that society realizes that women are not cut-throat, gossiping backstabbers. We bring a lot better assets to the table. Women have the potential to unite everyone, pull society forward, and make a true difference.

Off course, in order for women to make a difference, they need to be able to enter a patriarchal system. At this point we have to face some hard facts. When looking at the percentage of males versus females in any workplace, the percentage of men is undoubtedly higher in most cases. Women are not assessed on merit alone; they are also assessed on appearance much more harshly than their male counterparts. It is at this point, that we must consider whether women should be fighting for equality or equity. Equality is the ultimate goal, but equity takes into account the situation and hurdles of our current society.

Equality is simply fairness in status, rights and opportunities. Equity is being just. Equity means that it would be okay to hire a female versus a male for a position even if her merit is lower, because there are less females working in a current workplace and hiring that female would bring diversity in the organization. For example, women should be given seats based on the fact that there are fewer women than men in an organization. Once the percentages are equal, they can start being judged on merit alone in competition with men.

For a woman to simply join a workforce, she must overcome a lot of hurdles first. Women are often shamed for leaving their husbands and children at home to work outside the workplace. Our society tends to portray these females as selfish for leaving their crying children every day and forgetting their household duties. These women work like machines from morning until night, fulfilling work duties equal to that of a man, while getting paid less, and then coming home while fulfilling their household duties as well.

Instead of understanding and helping these women, families tend to emotionally blackmail them or purposefully cause problems. If a woman would like to work outside her home, she should be given the resources and support to do so. If she chooses not to work, then she should not be shamed into being an anti-feminist. It is simple; give women the choice to live the best quality of life that they can live.

“Mera jism, meri marzi.” That phrase alone stirs up a lot of emotions and backlash from many people, especially men. It is startling and disappointing to see how many men are disturbed by this slogan. It is simple, just as men have complete rights over their bodies, women have the same rights. Nobody should be forcing another human to do something with their bodies that he or she does not want to do. It is absolutely insane how many men do not understand the simple concept that women have the right to make choices for their own bodies and ultimately their own lives.

The fact that this slogan has been portrayed in such a negative way in the media and has brought forth so many backlashes is an indication that the issue is more deeply embedded than what can be seen at first glance. The patriarchal thinking plaguing our society cannot simply be changed by punishing a few individuals. This type of thinking has taken root in educated men who are respected members of society. A change like this requires a complete change of basic thinking and perspectives which needs to occur at grass root levels, in homes, and in schools. The real question is, what is happening in our homes that men are viewing women as properties to rule over rather than humans first?

Lastly we must take a hard look at what feminism and women’s rights mean to us while taking into account our culture and religion. The West may have started International Women’s day, but they only considered their own culture, not ours. We are Pakistani, and we are mostly Muslims. In the west, a woman wearing a Hijab is often portrayed as a sign of oppression. However, many females wear the Hijab out of choice and love for their religion. Do not forget that what the West believes is right is not necessarily right for the East.

In addition, we must also accept the fact that men and women are not the same. Men are built differently and think differently than women. However, this does not mean that one gender is not as good as the other. It simply means that each gender brings with it unique qualities that the other cannot. Do not fight for petty rights, like wearing jeans, not ironing clothes, not taking care of children, or not cooking. These are not the main issues at hand.

The issues are much greater and require a change in deeply embedded ways of thinking in not only men, but also women. I request all women, especially mothers to use their roles to shape the minds of young boys and girls. Teach your children true feminism and basic rights. Most importantly, amidst all the media drama, remember to keep the core issues in light and ignore the pettiness. Cheer for all the strong, committed women in your lives. Do not forget to celebrate the true feminist, true human rights activists, and most importantly all the women that make this world a little more tolerable to live in.