PAKISTAN: Mutilated for Venturing Outdoors

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Conflict Prevention
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

In Bajaur Agency, one of seven tribal areas in northwestern Pakistan, very few girls go to school due to threats by the Taliban.

"When I hired a tutor so my two older daughters could keep up their learning at home, I began receiving threats," explained Salim Jan from Khar, the agency's main town. He is in a quandary about whether to leave.

“The militants are still here despite the military's claims of victory in 2010," he said.

According to the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), many girls in 2009-10 were forced to join seminaries due to fear of the Taliban.

"Not a single girl got admission to ninth class in Bajaur, FR [Frontier Region] Kohat and FR Lakki Marwat during 2009-10 due to Taliban threats,” and no girls went to college in Bajaur, FR Lakki Marwat or FR Peshawar either, said the HRCP said in a September report.

Opposition by the Taliban to girls` education, propaganda against it through illegal FM radio channels, threats and the declaring of girls` education a “vulgarity” and un-Islamic, were preventing parents from sending their daughters to schools, it added.

Zuleikha Bibi* told IRIN from her village near the town of Wana that she had heard of women being mutilated by militants, for “offences” such as venturing outdoors without a male escort.

"You who live outside the tribal areas cannot imagine what fear we women live in,” she said. “Here, in South Waziristan, there have been cases of Taliban bursting into homes to `check' on women's morality. My teenage cousin had her hair chopped off because her head was not properly covered, just a few months back.”

Living in terror

Maryum Bibi, chief executive of the Peshawar-based NGO Khwendo Kor (Sister's Home), told IRIN: "Despite the official stance that the Taliban have been defeated, they remain present in remote areas… Women live in terror and have told me their stories of exploitation, harassment or other forms of terrible violence by militants.”

She said accounts contained in a recent study by her organization, which spoke of militants slicing off the breasts of a mother feeding her baby inside her home, had been "verified" by field workers.

"I have met displaced women who were asked by security staff at camps for sexual favours in exchange for food," she told IRIN. She said women also lived in terror in settled areas with Taliban domination, such as Tank District in Khyber Paktoonkhwa Province.

"The plight of these women is terrible. It will change only if male mindsets can be altered," she said.

Asia Bibi, 19, who now lives in Peshawar with her family, said: "Every woman in our home agency of Mohmand lives in constant terror. The fear of being humiliated when we step out on the roads, even if we are covered from head to foot, is demeaning, and violence against women is common - not only by militants but also other relatives.”

Diplaced and vulnerable

In an October 2010 report HRCP described specific difficulties faced by displaced women, who had multiple problems getting registered at camps and receiving aid.

“Involuntary displacement can expose women and girls to a range of factors which may put them at risk of further violations of their rights,” it said. In a separate report on Swat compiled during the same year, HRCP noted women continued to face many difficulties, including a lack of access to education and a lack of mobility even a year after the conflict in the area ended.

In a press release commenting on the Khwendo Kor report, entitled Impact of Crisis on Women and Girls in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), UN Women said: "In crises situations, women are among the most vulnerable. During both relief and early recovery, women and children tend to be affected in very different ways from men."

FATA are some of the least developed areas of the country, according to official figures, with the literacy rate for women standing at barely 3 percent.

*Not her real name