Peshawar — Tribal women have expressed concerns over the replacement of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) with the “Riwaj Act”, as proposed in reforms package by the government FATA reforms committee to mainstream the terror-hit tribal areas.
Half of the FATA’s population is women who are completely neglected by the government in the ongoing democratic development in FATA.
Like, FATA MPs, tribal women have also expressed their deep reservations over zero representation of women in the reforms committee.
Sakeena Rehman of Mohmand Agency is participating in politics for the last 20 years. She says that the proposed reforms package for FATA is nothing more than confusion. “We do not know where we (women) will stand after the merger’s approval,” she pointed towards FATA’s merger into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, “No one ask women even talk about women’s role.”
In November 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a committee to take into account views of all the stakeholders and propose concrete way forward for political mainstreaming of FATA.
All the five members of the committee include Minister for SAFRON Lt Gen (R) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Advisor to Prime on National Security Lt Gen (R) Nasir Khan Janjua, MNA Zahid Hamid and former Governor KP Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi. However, government included no Member of Parliament from FATA who are the real stakeholders.
After 14 month longs consultation process, Federal Cabinet approved a 10-year ‘reforms package’ of the committee for proposed merger of FATA with KP and steps to be taken to bring the tribal region on a par with other developing areas of the country.
The approval of FATA’s merger was welcomed everywhere but tribal women expressed their confusion regarding women’s position after the merger.
Noreen Naseer is teaching Political Science at the University of Peshawar. She said that government did not include any tribal person in the committee but she did not know why. “My question is not only about the women’s role in reforms, even tribesmen were not included in that committee,” she said. “What is meant by Riwaj Act in that reforms package? I want an answer for this question.”
“As a political scientist, I think, the ‘act’ is a mixture of FCR and tribal traditions”, Noreen said.
Samina Afridi is a political activist and faculty member in Philosophy department of the University of Peshawar. She said that nothing is clear in the reforms package. “They (Reforms committee members) are trying to enclose us in a circle in the name of Riwaj Act,” she added, “Tribal women are completely ignored in our ‘Riwaj’ (traditions).”
“Riwaj” is a set of various tribal traditions under which tribal society is led by tribal elders and religious clerics. In the “Riwaj”, tribal woman is not allowed to go out of home freely and work anywhere. Women cannot participate in any Jirga and men make all the decisions.
Nosheen Fatima, president of the “Qabaili Khoor” (tribal sister), a new women-led organization, said that this act is not transparent. “Government is trying to give us a lollipop in the name of ‘Riwaj Act’. What is actually in this act? No one can answer,” She told, “but I am happy, at least there is a chance to move on.”
Noreen Naseer pointed out another aspect of the Riwaj Act. “I think, government has tried to convince our tribal elders with the so called ‘Riwaj’ to be included in the reforms,” she explained, “the elders have been following Riwaj (tribal traditions) strictly. It can be an effort to get them (elders) on agreed for mainstreaming FATA but again, let me clear that woman is not secure in ‘Riwaj’.”
Sakeena Rehman considers ‘Riwaj’ a common function which is exercised everywhere in KP. She said, “I have visited almost every part of the KP. We have same Riwaj (traditions) in Swat, Peshawar and other parts as we have in FATA. Why do they want to impose this only on tribal people?” she asked, “It is very clear that we want complete abolishment of the FCR whereas Riwaj is part of FCR.”
Tribal women have no reserved seats in the national assembly as women of other settles areas of Pakistan have.
In the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the political party act was extended to FATA. Badam Zari was the first female who contested elections in 2013. However, no tribal woman could have a seat in parliament.
Samina Afridi says that tribal women should must be given role through the reserved seats. “it will a big encouragement of our women if they go to the national assembly on reserved seats,” she said, “thus tribal woman can show our elders that can play a key role in democratic process.”
Noreen Naseer considers the ‘reserved seats quota’ as the only solution to let tribal women come forward. “When our men see tribal women sitting in the assembly sessions and watch them on TV screens, our men won’t stop us again,” she explained, “tribal women is much brave.”
“Even if the government would have included a tribal woman in the reforms committee, she could have proved that tribal women can lead,” Noreen said, “I am more educated than all of the committee members. If I go to Kurram Agency and face our elders in a Jirga, they will not object my presence there. So our women need opportunities and government must create such opportunities for them.”
Ayesha Gulalai Wazir is a member of national assembly who belongs to South Waziristan Agency. She is a member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and has a reserve seat from Peshawar. She is also hopeful for the next elections in 2018. “I hope many parties will provide reserve seats to tribal women and we will also demand it strongly,” she said, “I also hope that tribal women will come forward as candidates for the national assembly in future.”
Saida Fouzia Srtaj, a student activist who struggles to lead tribal girls in colleges and universities is much hopeful now. She says that FATA’s merger with KP will provide a chance to tribal women to step up and speak loud, “I am happy for our women in particular. Because we were ignorant in every aspect but now we hope that we will have our voice.”
Tribal women have also reservations over the ‘Jirga’, a tribal council of leaders that make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali. In the proposed reforms package, Jirga has been given special status to be continued after FATA’s merger.
Noreen Naseer calls Jirga ‘an outed system’. She says that nowadays, modern tools are used in almost all cases in courts. “There are forensic sciences excercised in courts for evidence but Jirga still uses its old mechanism,” she explained, “however, it was working decades ago but today we need transparent system for solving our issues.”
“There are specific bodies in courts for various cases in courts, for example a criminal case is brought in a criminal court where experts work on it,” she further explains, “but in Jirga, only few people – elders make decisions of every case. They have no understanding of many cases; even they have zero knowledge of the forensic tools.”
“The same Jirga make decisions of women related cases in which women are not asked about their views and rights,” Noreen said, “and we need women representation in decision making process. Because only women can understand their issues.” She added that today tribal woman is more aware than past. “Tribal women are doctors, Judges, professors and politicians. Out men have to accept us and our rights otherwise we cannot get rid of this outdated system,” she said.
Naila Altaf, a student and socio-political activist from Kurram Agency. She says that the present tribal culture and traditional system is like an imprisonment for tribal women. “There are no grooming for our women in the current system in FATA. Women are limited only to the walls of their homes,” she explained position of a woman in FATA, “We demand gender equality and women rights.”
“There is no way for our women in Jirga to speak and move ahead,” she said, “A woman can understand mentality of a woman but she is always and everywhere ignorant in FATA.”
A university student, Imrana is also worried about her activism, “my brothers always ask me not to go to such programs (training and seminars),” she told, “I wish the Jirga to listen our voice and respect our thoughts.”
Tribal women are now in colleges, universities and different professional fields. However, they are still worried about their role in the today’s modern society. Another university student Misbah Sardar from Orakzai Agency is concerned about women rights and says, “We need awareness about our rights. Women cannot demand divorce in FATA. Jirga listens men’s voice only. I want every tribal sister well aware so that she can demand her rights.”
Shazia and Syed Bano belong to South Waziristan and are social activists. They also demand women representation in tribal society, “If we want a developed and well aware society, we have to empower our women,” Shazia told.
Women from the tribal areas have stepped up now to raise voice for the rights and development of women.