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Accepted Paper:

Women Marching for Solidarity: Five Years of Aurat March in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan  
Erin Kelso (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I use a Laclauian framework to analyze the emergence of grassroots solidarities between diverse communities of women in the last five years of Pakistan's Aurat March.

Paper long abstract:

In 2016, the election of Donald Trump, an unabashed sexual predator, as president of the United States sparked a nationwide women’s movement that spread to countries across the globe—including the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. While the women’s march in the United States has since lost steam, its Pakistani counterpart, the Aurat March, continues to have strong mass appeal. Unlike progressive women’s movements of the past, whose leadership had been drawn largely from Pakistan’s elite, today’s march organizers have done considerable work on the grassroots level to build solidaric links between women of diverse backgrounds.

I argue that the Aurat March has developed from a one-off event to a social movement that operates according to a populist logic as articulated by Ernesto Laclau (2002). I demonstrate how a diverse demands are linked by a chain of equivalence to create solidarities between disparate communities of women. Here protestors define themselves in opposition to a common enemy, the patriarchal state, embodied by the heterosexual Pakistani Muslim cis-male, allowing for an array of marginalized ethnic, religious and gender identities to be subsumed under the Aurat March banner.

I analyze how slogans like mera jism, meri marzi (Urdu: my body, my choice) become increasingly empty, allowing a variety of demands to be projected upon them: religious minorities protesting abduction and forced conversion, factory workers demanding medical insurance, trans women raising voice against gender-based violence, etc.

In the conclusion I explore the limits to solidarity that emerge when elite demands threaten to alienate more conservative protestors.

Panel P121a
(Re) Thinking Transformations through Solidarity: Limits & Potentials
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -