Pakistan witnessed its first “Aurat March” in 2018, and since then, feminism in the country has risen rapidly.
On March 8, women across the country celebrate International Women’s Day by gathering to protest the patriarchal norms that don’t let women and marginalized communities take up the same space as men.
Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi are home to the most significant Aurat March rallies.
Pakistan is a largely patriarchal society, and the fight for women’s rights has not been easy.
Every year pre and post-event, the organizers of Aurat March have to deal with ferocious hate and online attacks from trolls.
Social media is the most significant source of abuse for the participants and organizers of the march. People hide behind anonymity and the cover of “freedom of expression” and go as far as inciting violence against the participants.
But while social media is the source of a lot of hate for the initiative, it is also an essential tool in orchestrating and streamlining an event of this scale.
Ahead of this year’s Aurat March, we spoke to a representative of the initiative who wishes to remain anonymous and talked about how Aurat March uses social media effectively to plan, organize and execute the march.
Importance of social media for Aurat March
Social media is vital for Aurat March as it is the one platform where the organizers can disseminate their narrative to the masses on their terms.
Other forms of media have a lot of gatekeeping, and the organization doesn’t get the power to drive their narrative how they want to. And whenever they do partake on any other forum, the ability to drive the narrative lies with the moderator or host.
More often than not, these interactions portray the organizers and the march itself in a bad light.
Additionally, social media plays a vital role in connecting volunteers with organizers. That’s because Aurat March does not have a traditional structure or a party.
Planning the social media strategy every year
Aurat March puts a lot of work into planning its strategy around social media since many people participating in the initiative are millennials or gen Z, whose lives revolve heavily around the internet.
Their strategy includes giving updates on social media on the work done throughout the year.
They launch a concerted and well-planned media campaign centered on the year’s Aurat March theme leading up to March.
It includes their demands, creating awareness, and launching their manifesto.
Aurat March pays particular attention to running counter-narratives against disinformation and false narratives.
Their strategy changes every year based on feedback.
For instance, they posted all their social media posts in English the first year, but they began posting in both English and Urdu the following year.
Additionally, they’ve expanded their reach to other platforms, like TikTok, so that they can reach as many people as possible.
They also make sure to incorporate as much visual content as they can. They strive to create content that is engaging and easy to consume.
Social media also helps the initiative highlight the activities that the Aurat March team is doing on the ground.
Dealing with online threats
From the start, Aurat March has faced online attacks and backlash.
The social media team blocks or deletes threatening or excessively violent comments. This is because they want people who come to their posts to feel it is a safe space to share their thoughts without feeling intimidated.
Generalized threats are a norm for the organizers of Aurat March. Sometimes they let these comments be so people can see the backlash that the Aurat March has to face and the rampant misogyny in these online spaces.
Mostly their strategy is to take it on a case-to-case basis, and if a situation is grave or someone is trying to portray a false narrative in the name of the march, they report it as per the community guidelines off the platform.
In 2019, some people attempted to incite violence against participants of the march, the case was reported to law enforcement, but no action was taken.
So essentially, the organizers’ strategy is to stay as vigilant as possible against threats and online trolls.
Reaching out to people outside of social media
Many people are not on social media, so Aurat March tries to opt for other ways to get to them.
They do offline and on-ground organizing. And work with many communities and try to constantly engage with them, hold meetings with them, visit them, check upon them.
Last year they did health camps in different communities and got doctors to volunteer and provide medical services, especially in underserved communities.
Additionally, they canvass and distribute their manifesto and post posters in public places. These include crowded places such as bus stations.
They also visit schools and universities and hold study circles with members of different communities who volunteer for the Aurat March.
So, a lot is going on, supplemented by many of their social media campaigns.
Aurat March has had to deal with numerous disinformation campaigns run against them. Running a counter-narrative has become a part of their annual campaign.
Last year they did a myth-busting series. And addressed a lot of myths that people have about Aurat March. They also try to document as much of the event they can themselves so people cannot spin their narrative.
Last year, there was a widespread campaign where people tried to photoshop posters, so now the organization attempts to watermark the signs to prevent this.
This year they are trying to get their narrative out as soon as possible after the march to quash any spreading of disinformation.
Last year a video from the demonstration held in Karachi was doctored to show participants raising blasphemous slogans and widely shared online falsely.
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in the country, so the organization had to pull all stops to stop this narrative from taking charge.
Last year, they contacted reporters and provided them with all the facts so that disinformation could be countered.
They also issued clarification statements.
They try to report as much misinformation online as possible and avoid letting posts trying to twist their narrative go viral.
Aurat March 2022
This year’s Aurat March’s manifesto’s theme is Asal Insaaf.
It talks about how the current justice system focuses excessively on punishment to combat crime and injustice, not on actual systematic changes.
Furthermore, it discusses how the death penalty and chemical castration are not solutions to patriarchal violence. As a deterrent, they are ineffective and serve merely as a short-term solution.
The theme also covers the failure of the justice system to serve the gender minorities of the country.
Economic and environmental issues are also a part of this year’s manifesto.
Every year, women are targeted across all social media for marching for their rights.
There is more outrage on women protesting injustice than on the injustices perpetrated against them and marginalized communities.
With the help of social media, Aurat March was able to organize and communicate its story, and discourse about women and trans rights has slowly but surely changed.
There are always going to be cynics and naysayers. Still, the truth is that the initiative is getting stronger every year, with more and more people participating and women and marginalized communities reclaiming their rightful place in society.