PESHAWAR: Working in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has become a nightmare for the women activists who have been facing increasing attacks, physical abuse and social hate.
The forty-odd women activists, who have dared to continue work in the tribal region despite the worst-ever hostile environment, have put their lives to extreme risks as they claim that space is shrinking for them with each passing day. In the absence of adequate laws and accountability mechanisms in Fata, there is a surge in cases of human rights violations with impunity enjoyed by the state and non-state actors, asserted women rights activists.
Since the killing of Hina Shahnawaz, an activist in Kohat in February last year by one of her own relatives for undertaking the social work, the fear has spread on the larger scale –not only in the tribal areas but also in the adjacent settled regions.
“Today, threats to women social activists range from moderate to the critical level. In most cases, the threats are to their lives,” said an activist on the condition of anonymity because her own life could be compromised for speaking out.
She said that many women activists had left the tribal belt after coming under physical attacks in the recent past. However, the number of the activists who left the region could not be verified.
An investigation, carried out by ‘Apni Awaz’, revealed that majority of the activists felt threatened even about sharing their experiences.
Some of them have been threatened at a gunpoint to stop them from their activism. They were unable to describe the real situation because they still have to go to the tribal agencies for work. Besides safety issues, women activists also described the overall hostile environment for NGOs’ operations in Fata.
Samreena Khan Wazir, 30, a passionate social worker, claimed she was questioned for doing her job in the tribal region. “They suspect as If I work as a foreign agent when they come to know that I’m an NGO worker,” said Wazir, one of a few women activists who organized a march of school girls in March last year in South Waziristan for raising awareness about girl’s education.
She urged the authorities to “relax the procedure for NGO work so they can carry out their activities from the tribal belt,”.
“The NGOs based in major cities grab the funding in the name of tribal people but this funding goes unutilised because of difficulties on the ground,” she said. Unavailability of No Objection Certificate (NOC) is another major hurdle which is hampering the social welfare work in the tribal region.
“We are trying to minimize the time of the process, but no decision has been made yet. Normally, it takes eight to twelve weeks to get NOC for working in FATA under our supervision,” Mir Raza Ozgan, Additional Political Agent, told ‘Apni Awaz’.
Interestingly, the NOCs are issued to only those organizations which can secure a nod from the security operatives.
“It’s a cumbersome process, which results in rejection of nine out of ten applications,” said a rights activist who wanted to get his organization ‘Teach For Fata’ registered. “After following all procedures and applying through a proper channel, I was grilled like a criminal by the authorities,” he said adding that a senior Security and Exchange Commission’s official accused him of working for a foreign agenda.
Maria Salamat Kumari, a minority rights campaigner from Parachinar in Kurram Agency, said activist women had to move to safer zones such as Hangu, Tank, Bannu, Peshawar and Islamabad as they were unable to work openly in tribal areas.
“No doubt it’s a difficult task to work remotely for the tribal areas but we try to do our best,” she said.
Kumari reiterated, “Fata people have not accepted the role of women in public domain in true spirit as they allow a woman only in traditional roles such as a nurse, a teacher or a housewife but she can’t dare to think of other professions including rights activist,”.
Tribal NGO’s consortium president, Zar Ali Afridi, is of the view that the problems had aggravated because of an absence of the proper judicial and police system. “Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) is the law that in any case does not encourage any kind of activism in the tribal belt,” Afridi said.
“How can we expect security and other legislative measures in an area like FATA where their elected bodies can endorse and object to legislation for other parts of the country but can’t legislate for themselves.”
But for Wazir, who has also served as President of the women wing of the FATA Students Organization in South Waziristan Agency, a woman activist can’t raise a voice from Fata because it is a male-dominant society.