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Activists Oppose Tribal Ban On Women Visiting Pakistan Bazaar

FILE: Families fleeing fighting in Mohmand Agency in 2008.
FILE: Families fleeing fighting in Mohmand Agency in 2008.

Activists in a remote northwestern Pakistani district have urged local authorities to swiftly act to end a tribal ban that prohibits women from visiting the local market.

Qabailee Khor, Pashto for Tribal Sister, a nongovernmental organization in Mohmand, a district bordering Afghanistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has called on local authorities to quickly undo a local tribal ban that prohibits women from shopping or visiting a market in the rural Kuz Gandaow area.

“This is a slap on the local law enforcement agencies because Pakistan’s constitution guarantees the freedom of movement for all its citizens,” Nausheen Jamal, an official of Qabailee Khor, told Radio Mashaal. “If we accept this ban today, tomorrow they will ban us from going to school or even hospitals.”

The ban imposed on January 12 in the Chanday Bazaar, as the market is formally called, prohibits women from “roaming and shopping,” according to a handwritten note signed by 24 local community leaders.

“We call on the entire Haleemzai tribe to prohibit their women from visiting Chanday Bazaar,” the note said while referring to a clan of the larger Mohmand Pashtun tribe. “If you fail to do so and your women are disrespected, then you won’t be able to disrespect anyone.”

Repeated attempts to reach various members of the tribal council that imposed the ban were not successful. Locals says the ban was imposed after a local woman eloped with a shopkeeper in Chanday Bazaar.

Fazal Ahmed Jan, the district police chief in Mohmand, says they are investigating the issue.

“We were informed about the ban today,” he told Radio Mashaal on January 15. “We will probe the details and then determine the real issue.”

Mohmand is one of seven Pashtun-inhabited districts that formed the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and millions displaced in more than 15 years of Taliban violence and military operations since 2003. Islamabad merged the region into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018, but police and courts are still not fully functional. Taliban, hard-line clerics and tribal councils have imposed bans on women voting and education in the name of protecting religious and cultural norms.

Wali Muhammad, an activist in Kuz Gandaow, says tribal councils are still prevalent in the region since its merger Pakistan’s mainstream legal system.

“Unfortunately, some people here are still afraid of women’s empowerment in this modern age,” he told Radio Mashaal. “If all women can be banned because of one woman running away, then they should also ban men because a men was also responsible for eloping with the woman.”

Jamal, the women’s activist, says that tolerance for such bans will contribute to pushing former FATA into the instability that long tormented its residents.

“Not only women but everyone was humiliated during that time,” she noted.