The murder of rights activist Farida Afridi in Khyber Agency has driven the already dwindling number of female social workers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) towards more uncertainty.
Afridi, who was a founding member of the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA), was shot dead by unidentified assailants on July 4 near her residence when she was on her way to work.
A technical adviser at SAWERA said that routine work has stopped since the murder, as women staff members are too frightened to come to the office.
A friend of Afridi’s, who was also working for SAWERA, quit soon after the murder. She said her parents refused to let her go out and she could not even complete her master’s degree. “The number of educated females in Fata is really low and if such brutal acts continue, the future of our women will be really dark,” she said.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have urged the government to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of social workers, particularly in Fata, where about 37 local NGOs are operating presently.
Project coordinator of the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme Syed Afzal Shinwari claimed the government has failed to protect people and is not interested in preventing such incidents.
Executive Director of Aware Girls Saba Ismail vowed to raise her voice against the “tyranny of anti-state elements that have been given a free hand to kill civilians.”
“People from tribal areas are more conservative and we cannot change their point-of-view in one night. We will need to struggle and try our best to make it possible,” she said.
Programme Manager at Aurat Foundation Shireen Javed also said the murder will not dampen their desire to bring about change. “We will not let anti-state actors think they have won.”
Afridi was not your average woman from the area. She opted for higher education despite being raised in an impoverished village amid the craggy defiles of Khyber Pass. After completing her education, she chose to serve tribal women and fight for their rights.
Afridi’s village near the Ghundi area of Jamrud Tehsil lacks basic facilities and has no schools for either boys or girls, who have to travel to nearby villages to receive an education. Afridi became the first woman from her village to complete her masters.
Her 70-year-old father, Sherzada Khan, told The Express Tribune that his daughter never spoke of any threats. “She did not discuss the threats with me or anyone else.” He added that no one has claimed responsibility for the murder as yet.
While her father maintained he did not know how much she used to earn, he said most of her income was spent on welfare work and the rest on educating her siblings.
Last year in December, another well-known activist, Zarteef Khan Afridi, was also killed. Militant group Abdullah Azam Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2012.
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