If any woman calls the radio station, or seeks any kind of assistance from the Sada-i-Aman Markaz (citizen facilitation centre), their family and tribe will be fined Rs10,000 each.

This announcement was made recently by a tribal jirga (meeting of tribal elders) of three sub-tribes in Mamond Tehsil of the now merged district of Bajaur. Local tribal elders had gathered to discuss various issues and pass orders, which included restraining women from seeking assistance regarding their health, social and economic rights by calling the radio station and/or visiting the women’s centre developed for the purpose. The meeting also called for an end to drug peddling in the area, along with other prevalent ‘vices’.

The centres in question have been funded by various international development agencies as safe spaces where pregnant women can seek medical advice and assistance, as well as receive cash grants after giving birth.

Following the jirga’s declaration, which is binding as per tribal customs, the government sprang into action to protect the rights of citizens. The additional deputy commissioner led a team which met the tribal elders and reasserted the right of the state after the area’s merger with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2018. The elders assured the government that their declarations would remain within the ambit of law and they would also bring onboard the local administration before passing any such orders in the future.

Bajaur Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Fayyaz asserted that no one has the right to take the law into their hands, and that such jirgas are void of any binding value now that the tribal areas have been converted into settled districts.

Agreeing with the jirga’s decisions, local community leader Malik Shaheen Khan told Sabaat that their traditions and customs can never condone their women calling any man who is not a direct family member and partaking in a friendly or light conversation [as was allegedly happening via the FM radio station].

Similarly, he stated that the way their women would be made to sit under the open sky outside the centres without any ‘purdah’ (cover) also goes against their norms. “The jirga had thus suggested that instead of women going to the centres, they should be delivered the cash grants at their doorstep by lady health workers,” he informed. Defending the jirga’s occurrence, he explained that tribal people have been resolving all kinds of disputes, from age-old enmities to all financial matters, through jirgas and that is part of their culture.

However, Misbahuddin, a senior member of the Tribal Youth Movement, disagreed with the jirga’s actions and asserted that banning women from seeking assistance and getting awareness is not the solution. He added that the old system of such dispute settlement needs to be modernised, and also alleged that the staff at the women’s centres must be trained better and be more professional so as to resolve any issues with locals at the outset.

Speaking to Sabaat, Razi, a woman from Bajaur who is fortunate to have been educated and has a job, shared that the lack of internet coverage leaves no outlet for women which is why the radio station is so popular — even outside of Bajaur. “Severe illiteracy, lack of opportunity, and repressive traditions keep women in a perpetual cycle of deprivation,” she deplored further.

Khursheed Bano, who has been appointed to head the KP Commission on the Status of Women in Nowshera, regretted the conditions that tribal women continue to live under.

“On average, women in tribal areas have six to eight children, and if there are more girls than boys then they are made to continue having children until the number of boys is sufficient,” she revealed.

Bano added that under such instances the maternal mortality rate increases, especially since access to basic healthcare and medical awareness is already lacking. “In these circumstances, decisions like the recent one by the Mamond jirga are nothing but a death warrant for tribal women.”

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