Mera Jism, Meri Marzi.
Claiming the Body Where ‘Body’ Is an Obscene Word
The ‘Aurat March’ (Women’s March) has been held in the major cities of Pakistan since 2018. This public event, and the related activities promoted during the year, has emerged as a catalyst for liberal feminists in the country by creating a public space for expression. The Aurat March appearing as a threat to the status quo has made it subject to the disapproval and anger of many. The anger against the marchers, frequently expressed through social media networks, has as a common denominator the accusation of vulgarity. Of the many slogans that appear at the March, one has become the focus of this hatred, thus turning it into the unofficial slogan of the March: ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ (‘my body, my choice’). To the haters the scandal that this statement produces lies in the ability of the word jism, a neutral word for ‘body’ in Urdu, to evoke women's sexuality and thus to drive men to sinful thoughts. This essay suggests that the March has developed a public space for contestation of the ‘moral regulation’ that nationalist and Islamist policies have used to determine women’s place in Pakistani society. Furthermore, it investigates how ‘artivism’ participates in the formation of this new space for contestation. For this reason, it proposes an analysis of works produced by selected visual artists and investigates how contemporary feminist art challenges the conservative view of women’s place in society and reimagines it through representations of women, especially female bodies, in the context of a society where they are both objectified and under constant threat.