A frail, frightened 14-year-old girl sits in the corner of a room in a Darul Aman (shelter home) in a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As she awaits assistance by someone, anyone to help her out of her predicament, she is also scared as she does not know who she can trust. Any stranger looking at this girl, with a look of innocence and helplessness permanently spread across her face, would not realise in the first instance that this barely grown up kid is carrying another life inside her.
Narrating her harrowing ordeal, the girl recalled that her mother’s brother had left her at a house to work as a maid, where she was raped by a man she did not wish to identify. In that one moment, she saw the worst of humankind and her entire childhood stood lost. She was then left abandoned at the shelter home where she was welcomed and now resides, pregnant with her rapist’s child and wondering how her life will now pan out.
Those individuals and institutions meant to protect and look after vulnerable girls and women like her have failed in their duties. The district-level committees of KP’s women’s commission fall under that group.
In December 2017, the then-chief minister had ordered the formation of district committees to work under the KP Commission on Status of Women (KPCSW) — a body formed in 2010 to promote women’s rights and prevent violence against them, and backed by an act of legislation.
To-date, however, the district committees have not been made fully functional so they could help those in dire need of their assistance.
While the chairpersons of the bodies were appointed, funds disbursed and office space allocated following a ceremony to mark the occasion at the chief minister’s house, the notifications directing them to start work have still not been issued.
Despite the noted increase in violence against women during the coronavirus-related lockdowns, these safe spaces and avenues for help are yet to be made available.
Shaheen Qureshi, who was named as the Peshawar district committee’s head, said if the status quo of inaction continues, ensuring women’s empowerment and make them safe will remain pipe dreams. “While the nominated chairpersons of committees have been doing what they can to help those in need, without a notification they cannot actively work on the ground,” shared Qureshi. She regretted the government’s latest move of seeking names for fresh hiring of the committees’ staff, including the chairpersons who were finalised almost four years ago.
District Nowshera’s nominated chairperson, Khursheed Bano, repeated the plight of women during the lockdowns, stating that had the committees been operational, they would have come to the aid of those in need.
KPCSW Chairperson Dr Riffat Sardar said the district-level organisations can help women resolve issues of inheritance, protect them from domestic violence and workplace harassment.
“These bodies are legally bound to send the relevant cases of affected women to the concerned departments,” she explained.
Dr Sardar clarified that while new names for the positions of chairpersons have been sought, any individual seeking continuation at their post will not be set aside. Nevertheless, some already-nominated officials fear that government high-ups in the Social Welfare Department and KPCSW are vying to get certain favorites appointed to the Grade-17 government posts that are up for grabs after the new re-hiring directives.
While the bureaucratic wrangling continues, vulnerable girls and women continue to look for protection which is nowhere to be seen.
*The girl’s name and location have been kept secret to protect her identity