It’s hard to believe, but there is actually something worse than being a woman in Pakistan. Being a woman in The Federally Administered Tribal Areas is worse – The abysmal rock bottom.
FATA is the notorious tribal belt designed to be outside the fold of legal justice. Sitting like a forgotten coat near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, all FATA citizens suffer, but the women are first to have that suffering thrust on them. They are used as human shields against deliberate neglect from the state for decades – built conveniently upon a British colonial era law called FCR. A law made for the ruling power subjugating what they felt was a hostile race.
Women who are thought to be badly-behaved are killed in FATA before they can say mercy. Any woman who shows an interest in self-expression falls in that category. In the absence of any data at the FATA secretariat, inferring estimates from KP’s data on violence against women about 500 of them are victims annually. Even more, perhaps go unreported. Those who fall sick are left to die off because custom doesn’t allow women to be treated by male doctors. There are no women doctors almost. Those who do make it to public hospitals are left in putrid conditions. Girls are not educated because there are hardly any girls’ schools and after a certain age it’s not ok for them to go to boys schools. There is no sign of political activity for women. Women are not allowed by tradition and decorum in public space but they do, however, spend all day traveling to the springs to gather water, because it is completely acceptable to pass on the drudgework to them.
The president of Pakistan has just signed a bill, extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the once ungovernable FATA. This progressive step, proposed by the prime minister is now finally a law that will lead to a mainstreaming of the citizens of FATA. It is also an end to the draconian legitimization of older colonial powers putting natives in their place. The ultimate shame comes from the fact that this return to a respectable status for FATA has come from the state seven decades later. This is more than a failure of the sense of responsibility to those people and especially to the women. Sadly, it is also a decades-long breach of fundamental human rights guaranteed in the constitution under Articles 8-28: The right to equality before the law, to due process, to life and to non-slavery among others. The people of FATA sat outside the edge of human dignity. Until now.
One would think it would only have takers. Instead, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Senators, those from Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), and Fata Senator Taj Afridi staged a walkout protest after the bill before the House for approval.
Intellectual corruption to the ideals that senators have taken an oath to protect finds generous forgiveness in Pakistan. It helps to keep an anti-poor policy in FATA – it is easier to control the people than in terms of both unlawful trade and religious militancy. More than fifty percent of the households in FATA fall below the poverty line according to the UNDP, one of the few organizations that dare to work in the region.
As the sun rises on FATA the era of what locals call “No appeal, no lawyer, no logic” will hopefully end. It is not going to be a quick journey to empowerment. A region in the darkest side of modern civilization will not leapfrog into innovative ideas or development pursuits. The mindset of closed patriarchal control is ingrained indelibly into their bones.
So essentially it is a transfer of masters in FATA – The British to the Government of Pakistan and now to the hands of powerful men.
While the men of FATA were being savagely imprisoned in 6 feet into their terrain, the feminist movement happened. Someone should let them know; otherwise, they will be the new masters of women. This law will simply be a transfer deed. They should be informed that there is a wild idea still germinating in Islamabad that women are equal to men. Someone tell them that lo and behold, women can go and hurt a man through the courts if men hurt them first.
It took decades to come here. It will take a few to send the memo to women that the courts are their resources. It will take a few more for them to read it and then finally believe it.
Citizens are only tribal because they feel that belonging to kin gives them more security than to a system that provides an untimely execution of justice and order. They resort to violence only because it is swifter in the absence of a fair arbitrator. The courts, which are now deeply engrossed in finding new ways to muzzle free speech, have a tall order to follow. It is hard to be optimistic. The women of FATA cannot wait so long.