It is heartening to see a positive report regarding the advancement of women emanating from Balochistan. Particularly so when the report concerns a woman rising up the bureaucracy — in itself something of a rarity. Balochistan as is remarked so often is the largest, least developed and most poorly resourced of all the provinces, despite being the richest in terms of natural resources. It is home to a bloody and pernicious insurgency and the minorities, particularly ethnic Hazaras, are routinely persecuted, murdered and discriminated against. Officers of the civil administration are often targeted and there is a not unnatural resistance to being posted to interior Balochistan. None of this seems to have dented the resolve of Sadaf Batool Assadi, who has been appointed as the first female field assistant commissioner. On her appointment, she remarked that “officers are a genderless species and custodians of the government”. Quite so.
Ms Assadi was previously in the altogether softer posting of Rahimyar Khan, and made the move to Balochistan of her own volition being herself an ethnic Hazara. Now she has to work in an environment where ‘disappearances’ are not uncommon and sectarian and ethnic hatreds close to the surface. Government officials have been kidnapped in the past and endured months, sometimes years, of captivity. The move by Ms Assadi has made the headlines for the simple reason that it is so unusual — unique — and for there to have been real change within the system of misogyny and patriarchy that pervades both wider society and the civil service then moves such as this will have to be unworthy of note. Mere matters of routine and not something elevated to the front pages of national newspapers. As it is, almost anything a woman does from driving a taxi to running a successful business has an element of the unusual about it. Pakistan has a long way to go before ordinariness overtakes the extraordinary for women, but it will be extraordinary women that blaze the trail.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2016.