For women of a strictly patriarchal and rigidly homosocial region, their only voice are their male counterparts.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) is the only region of Pakistan that has no female representation in the National Assembly, or the Senate. In addition, the issue appears to be looming nowhere on the horizon.
Looking up to PPP
Giving qualified and eligible women of Fata proper representation in Parliament has been our longstanding issue, said ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) sympathiser, and a lawmaker from Fata, Akhundzada Chitan.
Chitan, who has been raising his voice for the rights of women of Fata, said he has talked to the party leadership several times and drawn their attention towards this important issue.
The PPP government recently amended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and extended the Political Parties Order 2002 to Fata, opening the region to political expression.
“It was almost impossible for us to even think about changes in the FCR but the PPP made it possible; that’s why the women of Fata are looking towards the PPP leadership to give them their basic rights, especially when there are no more political sanctions in Fata,” Chitan said.
In Pakhtun society, women, by virtue of strict gender segregation, are the only ones aware of women’s needs, especially at home, he said.
They face a host of challenges – reproductive health, financial stability, and ancient, discriminatory customs – and therefore a Pakhtun woman parliamentarian would help in formulating national policies regarding women-specific issues, Chitan added.
Female parliamentarians shifted the onus of political uplift of Fata’s women to their male counterparts.
PPP lawmaker Yasmin Rehman called for equal rights for Fata’s women but urged the Pakhtun men to ‘help their women contribute towards strengthening of institutions’.
Only education can improve the lot of women, Rehman said, adding that she will discuss this particular issue in the meetings of women parliamentary caucus.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) lawmaker Anusha Rehman said granting political representation to Fata’s women should be ‘the prime task’ of Fata’s male parliamentarians.
She suggested they draft a private members’ bill, instead of delivering rhetoric on points of orders.
The region’s human rights representative blamed the ‘establishment’ for Fata’s general backwardness.
“In Fata, the real power rests with the army which, professionally, has a security-oriented approach in dealing with things, rather than a welfare-oriented one,” said chairperson of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chapter of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Sher Mohammad Khan.
Social change is a continuous process and sooner than later, those in power would have to grant rights to the tribal people guaranteed in the Constitution, Khan added.
Women to herald change
Women need to be empowered and no one but themselves should bring about this change by raising their voice against violation of their rights, said educationist Dr Mairaj Humayon.
We are celebrating the recently-passed landmark bills upholding women’s rights, but when will such celebrations take place for Fata’s women, said filmmaker and women rights activist Samar Minallah.
“If policy makers are serious about empowering them, they will have to think of some practical steps to bring about a change from within,” she said.
Minallah insisted that women have to be part of the decision-making process.
“There are effective decision-makers concealed behind the chadors; they can only emerge if they are given a real chance,” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2012.
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