There is no way I can play safe with words by not going too harsh on traditions and customs of federally administered tribal areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Described by outsiders as people with unique identity, even some treat them as extraordinary characters from some other world due to their hospitality, fearless personalities, extreme views and an extreme Texan style gun wielding culture. There is no middle ground when it comes to traditions and customs of Pukhtun people regarding women status in that set up. It is interesting to read about the romanticism and fascinating aura relating to the people of FATA and declaring that territory with estimated 3.1 million population a place where these centuries old customs and tradition has been declared viable and according to the whim and wishes of tribal men (and not their women). FATA is governed under the laws called The Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which were introduced by the British colonial power to ensure the territorial integrity of their empire; those same laws were continued subsequently by the Government of Pakistan and still continue to operate in the region. A cursory study of FCR, even in its very superficial form, will reveal that those laws are continuation of system which suited the needs of occupying power. It has no concept of civil liberty or any concept of civil laws which deals with average life of a person or individual in FATA. According to article 247-b of the Pakistan`s Constitution, tribal areas are outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan Supreme Court. Similarly any legislation passed by parliament cannot be applied or enacted in tribal areas. The vacuum, thus created, has been taken care by traditions, customs and Jirga of the local people. Jirga is a concept of assembly of elder men who takes decision by consensus. Being a very tribal and patriarchal society, tribal Jirga has no concept of women representation; it is an all-male assembly of old wise and not so wise men. Women are not even allowed in or heard in the Jirga directly (their close male relations have to represent them). The absence of modern concept of law and justice has made women of FATA the most vulnerable victim of the whole setup. I come across some so called intellectual class within our country suggesting or insisting that we should not stereotype people of FATA by considering them cavemen and we should let them continue with the set up they have. What I fail to understand why our assessment of these practices are considered stereotyping when all we want to discuss is equality, justice and modern laws dealing with average human beings (especially women).
One of the most pressing issues is the blatant tyranny of tribal law for inheritance for women. In summary currently there is no practice for her to inherit any share in the property left behind by her father or husband let alone other relations. Although the people of FATA claim to be governed equally by Sharia (Mohammaden law) and tribal traditions and customs, when it comes to laws of inheritance and the share of women the sharia law is conveniently overlooked. No daughter or wife can directly inherit the property of her father or husband. The written Riwaj and Dastoor (written customs and traditions – another special feature of the region) does acknowledge the rights of women to property but in practise hardly any instances can be found in which a daughter has inherited property from her father in tribal areas. I came across few cases of fathers (in written will) leaving behind some share to their unmarried daughter so they can sustain themselves in their absence, but unfortunately the fate of those daughters was ultimately decided by being shot or killed in falsely accused ‘honour’ killing or as they would put in pushto ‘Toor Lagol’.
Secondly, the right to divorce also lies with a man, like in any Islamic society but a woman in tribal area has absolutely no right to seek divorce. In Pushto they would say every woman comes with her fate, if she want to seek a ‘Khula’ (which is the right of woman, in extreme cases, to initiate proceeding for divorce in favour of some monetary benefit to her husband), she would give up her dower or Mahar (maintenance allowance), but normally the question of dower is not discussed at the time of marriage, she has to go through the Jirga process or ask the men on the Jirga (normally through some men of her family like father or brother) to get her divorce from her husband. The Jirga according to many is the speedy form of tribal justice or civil court. It might be speedy but it can be unjust and unfortunately for many, it has been. It can be corrupted or bought off and has been corrupted and bought off against many unfortunate women. Understanding tribal tradition and customs the question of dower or Mahar, or the question of maintenance allowance never arises because normally women are sold or bought off by the men worth her value (beauty chastity and young age).
Once a woman is sold according to her monetary value, the family of the woman forsakes the right of her ownership and by deed is transferred to her husband, like a property deal. Even if she is not sold off, i.e. Walwar or bride money is not taken by her family, Mahar or dower is decided according to sharia law which is never sufficient amount to take care of her maintenance after divorce (in case the husband wants to divorce her himself. It is almost blasphemous for a woman to demand property and divorce in tribal set up.
I believe these tribal traditions and customs have made ordinary women the lowest possible living being in that part of the world. It is not possible that all women end up in happy marriages, or get married at all. It is not possible that every woman can bear a male child which normally guarantees their safety in regard to their financial wellbeing. It is a vicious circle which continues to haunt their lives in the absence of laws which have some semblance of equality with all its inhabitants.
In comparison, when one reads western concept of women rights, for instance Lucy Mangan – in her recent Guardian article – mentioned the following:
‘we keep our eyes on the prize of securing an equal share of power and choices for women – the true freedom, for example, of whether or not to have children, derived from free access to contraception, abortion, economic independence from men, sufficient parental leave, flexible, affordable childcare options and so on’.
It pleases me so much that women, at least somewhere in this world, have moved on from fighting for basic women suffrage rights to a point where they can go beyond certain established society rules and challenge them. They seem to be in better control of their lives and I wish the same for our tribal women in FATA. Where this slogan would be even pleasing enough to be heard for a start – Feminism is just a radical notion that women are people too!