Had I received education, my life would be very different. I regret my past; so providing education to the children of Bajaur is on top of my priorities, said Badam Zari, the first woman from the tribal belt to contest elections.
Zari lives in Sultanabad, Bajaur Agency and feels her area has not made as much progress as other parts of the country. “One can see the terrible condition of roads and the communication system in Bajaur. Most localities are deprived of health facilities and where there are some health services, it is very substandard,” she said.
Sitting on a charpoy in her veranda, she confidently spoke with The Express Tribune and like any campaigning politician, breezed through the issues faced by her constituency. She talked about a heartfelt need for education in her area, dubbing education the “mother of all positive things”.
For Zari, change is a pivotal word. The journey from Bajaur to the parliament will be far easier than what she seeks to achieve and possibly the path she took to get where she is now. An example of this less-trodden path is the fact that her husband’s permission was sought for this interview.
How did a 40-year-old woman from Federally Administered Tribal Areas decide to push through deep-rooted social norms and contest elections? “I would often hear and watch women serving their nation [on television] then I realised I wanted to give practical shape to my longstanding desire to serve my country and the neglected people of my area,” she said.
Unlike many public figures, she has lived the problems of her area, the problems she seeks to change. In an earlier interview with The Express Tribune, Zari said “I used to carry water on my head from distant rocky areas; I want to redress all those problems.”
Perhaps an advantage of living sheltered from the unrelenting public eye and political maneuvering is her faith in the system, “I am optimistic of my success in the upcoming elections as I have broken all barriers and have stepped out for the service of my people,” she said.
However, Zari is about to check her privacy at the doorstep. At the time of this interview, Al Jazeera and other local TV networks were ready to take footage of how Zari went about her daily routine.
Zari lives with her husband, Sultan Mohammad, in a one-bed house with concrete walls and a mud and wood roof. Both seem content and confident about the new candidate’s success According to the Election Commission, the constituency has 186,000 registered voters, 67,000 of whom are women.
Mohammad is a school principal and is supportive of his wife’s political ambitions. They have been married for 25 years, and have no children.
When asked which quality he cherished most in Zari, he said, “She is very tolerant. Even when there is an argument, she remains calm.”
Though she feels that she has taken a bold step by contesting for NA-44, Bajaur II, she is not scared. “Why should I? I am not breaking the norms and traditions of my area. I will work inside our cultural framework and will fight for women’s rights.”
With the help of her husband and her relatives, Zari has already started her campaign. “We are conducting door-to-door campaign, the response has been very positive,” she said, adding “I will not be disappointed if I do not win. I will carry on my struggle for the betterment of my society.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2013.