Widows, 'second' wives flee fighting but are denied aid

Published: August 1, 2014
SHARES
Email
Internally displaced women beg a soldier to allow them to enter a food distribution centre set up in a sports stadium in Bannu. PHOTO: REUTERS

Internally displaced women beg a soldier to allow them to enter a food distribution centre set up in a sports stadium in Bannu. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANNU: Thousands of women displaced by fighting in North Waziristan are struggling to get food and other aid because they lack identity cards and conservative elders have forbidden them from going to distribution centres.

The women are among nearly a million people who registered for aid after the army began an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan.

The army ordered most civilians to leave before the offensive began in June, and many ended up in Bannu.

No census has been conducted in North Waziristan for years, so no one knows the true scale of the problem. Government figures, however, show almost three-quarters of those seeking aid are women and children.

There’s plenty of food to go around, with the World Food Programme (WFP) handing out nearly 5,000 tonnes and many other aid groups active.

But women face two problems: the lack of identity cards and an edict from elders of their Pashtun tribes forbidding them from going out to get aid. Conservative tribal traditions demand women stay at home and men fetch the food.

The same traditions prevent many women from getting identity cards, some because they are not considered the “first” wife of men who have taken two or more wives.

Some families also find the idea of a woman being photographed or fingerprinted for cards highly intrusive, even though the national identity agency runs women-only centres. Others simply lived in areas too remote to get cards.

For now, women and children without male relatives are largely dependent on handouts from neighbours who are themselves dependent on aid.

I have no chance

One woman sobbed behind her veil as she waited outside the main sports stadium in Bannu last week, watching men with wheelbarrows carry out sacks of flour and containers of water.

“They are not letting me in,” the woman said. “I have no chance to enter.”

The woman, Basmira, had no identity and no male relative. She stood near a cluster of women in all-covering burqas beseeching stick-wielding police and army guards to let them into the stadium.

Another woman, Maimoona, said her husband was killed by a stray bullet three months ago.

“You see those sticks in their hands? They will beat us if we try to go in,” said 30-year-old Maimoona, who like many in Pakistan uses only one name.

Two other women said they were also widows and one said her son was a drug addict. A soldier at the gate said women were welcome to go to other distribution sites around the city, but Reuters found that women were also being denied entry at four other centres.

“This lack of ID cards is a major problem for widows, second wives, and many women whose husbands are not here,” said Yasmin Akhtar, regional manager for Khwendo Kor, an aid group helping about 1,000 of the women.

Muhammad Abbas Khan, the commissioner for displaced families in Bannu, was exasperated.

“We tried to resist the elders but it was like talking to a brick wall,” he said. “This conservative culture overrides religion, it overrides ethics and it overrides human rights.”

The government says it will set up a women-only distribution point in the next few weeks but until then, women have to rely on handouts from other hungry families.

That generosity is keeping many people fed at Bannu’s Government School Number 3, where hundreds of displaced live in concrete classrooms partitioned by cotton sheets.

Shashparizada, 45, and her co-wife are at the school with their 12 children and husband, a frail 70-year-old with a long white beard.

He lay on a rope bed with a fan nearby, too weak to stand. “He is so old, it is hard for him to wait in line,” Shashparizada said. “We do not have ID cards and he cannot go, so there is nothing for us.”

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (7)

  • Ashraf
    Aug 1, 2014 - 5:44PM

    This is discrimination against Islam !! Up to 4 wives must be treated the same by the government and army. It is the right of every Muslim man and an Islamic country should respect it.

    Recommend

  • Syed
    Aug 1, 2014 - 7:04PM

    Now the liberal world has issues in having second wives?

    Recommend

  • Aug 1, 2014 - 8:14PM

    There should be no discrimination against food for women. We are all muslims, giving aid to the weak is essential for the pakistani govt.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Aug 1, 2014 - 8:29PM

    @Ashraf:
    @Syed:
    The problem is not with liberal world. It is with the mullahs that refuse to allow them to get rations. Second problem is with Pakistan government that NIC does not cover 2nd wives.

    Recommend

  • s malik
    Aug 1, 2014 - 9:09PM

    Pakistani army is acting just like the Israeli army; on the orders of the USA. Killing your own people is not bravery its cowardice. Pakistani will soon break up an its generals will go on retirements in the USA.
    Who needs this Pakistan; only CIA does; not Pakistanis.
    And I am sire like my previous threads, this one will never be printed; shame on all of you.

    Recommend

  • Farhan
    Aug 1, 2014 - 10:55PM

    Simple. Open a Nadra centre next to the food distribution centre and register the wives. If they resist, then they themselves are responsible for their plight.

    Recommend

  • Nobody
    Aug 2, 2014 - 7:02AM

    As disgusting as I find having multiple wives particularly those you clearly cannot and are too old to satisfy, this is completely unfair to those women (who probably didn’t choose to be second wives in the first place).

    Recommend

More in Pakistan