FROM one-time obscurity, Pakistan’s tribal areas have been much in the news during the past few years. Dominated by the militancy and the counter-offensive by the military, it is all a very macho narrative. The fallout of the militancy is also almost exclusively seen from a male perspective. Now, for the first time, tribal women and their supporters are raising a voice for their rights in a democratic system. At a recent protest in Peshawar, they demanded they be given representation in parliament. A group of women’s rights activists and educationists, again in Peshawar, has also set up a forum to campaign for reserved seats for tribal women and for them to be included in local jirgas and on the Frontier Crimes Regulation tribunal.
Although Fata has 20 seats in parliament, its representatives are invariably men. With elections around the corner, this is an opportune time for tribal women to assert their right to engage fully in the political process. As Pakistan’s laws do not extend to Fata, which is still governed by the FCR, it would require a constitutional amendment to enable women from Fata to be elected on reserved seats. Last month, a private member’s bill tabled by a PPP MNA asking for precisely such an amendment met with a lukewarm response. While this deserves censure, the least that the political parties can do for now is to ensure that women in Fata are allowed to exercise their right of franchise in the coming elections. In past elections, local chapters of virtually every political party in the running made agreements with local jirgas to prevent women from voting in several tribal areas, not to mention some settled ones as well. Political parties must rise above patriarchal attitudes that exclude tribal women from decision-making processes. These women must no longer exist in the shadows.