A shocking report on the dismal condition of women in Fata, Impact of crisis on women and girls in Fata, has added yet more substance to the view that short-sighted security policies and political isolation have turned the tribal region into a grim place for its inhabitants.
It is true that discrimination against women is rampant all over Pakistan, but it is important to make the distinction that a woman in Fata is much worse off than the average Pakistani woman because she is a victim of double discrimination: even her most basic constitutional rights are denied because every citizen in Fata, regardless of age or gender, has been neglected by the Pakistani establishment for years. The colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) 1901 that governs the region ensures that local leaders rely on the patronage of political agents to preserve their status and the state, in turn, uses the region as a convenient space to exploit interests in Afghanistan.
Traditionally weaker members of society, like women and children, suffer most under this system, as the report makes clear. And though the government has passed decrees that amend the FCR and allow political parties to operate in the region, much more must be done. Fata’s loosely monitored jirga system needs to be replaced with a judicial process that is consistent with practices in the rest of the country. The Code of Criminal Procedure needs to be applied to Fata. Eventually, the implementation of these measures will help women seek justice. However, even then, we must account for the fact that women in Fata suffer not only from a lack of protection under the law — they have also borne the brunt of militancy and security operations. The resulting problems, such as internal displacement, make women especially vulnerable as they are more susceptible to exploitation and sexual abuse in camps than men.
The pitiable status of Fata’s women and the irony of current government practices can be gauged by this reminder: although the parliament recently passed several landmark bills upholding women’s rights, women in Fata will be excluded from being able to appeal to these laws for justice. It high time Fata’s residents were brought into mainstream society. Anything less throws serious doubt on the integrity of Pakistan’s lawmakers.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2011.