Tuesday, March 15, 2016


WOMEN’S DISENFRANCHISEMENT
By Shad Begum[1]

The Peshawar High Court’s judgment to declare the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) judgment of June 2, 2015 as null and void in the case of PK 95 Dir Lower has compelled the civil society networks and women rights activist to contest PHC judgment in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The ECP took suo moto action after the by-election in PK-95, in which the JI candidate had won the election.

The PHC judgement says that the learned judges were not happy with the situation but there is no such law to compel voters for voting. The question was not to compel the voters for voting but the entire reasoning of the ECP judgement was that since the local JIRGA, including the contesting candidates, had reached a verbal agreement to limit the elections to men only, hence it was against the constitutional guarantees and the spirit of the electoral laws.

It is also worth noting that while the case was being heard in the ECP, when there was a favorable environment for the women voters, they came out to vote on May 30, 2015 in the local government elections. Even more significant are the results of PK-93 Dir Upper in which the women of Dir came out to vote in the by-elections in September 2015. It was unprecedented to see women voters in Dir Upper by-elections. Whether in the local government elections or in the case of PK-93 Dir Upper, the political parties and their candidates knew that there is a strong reaction from the ECP on barring women voters, and that the ECP will take action against the winning candidates, just as in the case of JI’s candidate in PK-95, if women were barred from voting.

The PHC judgment will set a precedent and encourage those who disenfranchise women in the name of culture. The ECP judgment was a strong message to those violating women’s right to vote but it seems that the struggle of empowering women through the exercise of their votes is not yet finished.

The Parliamentary Committee on electoral reforms has yet to come up with the recommendations and the government of Nawaz Sharif has not been able to legislate on the recommendations of the electoral reforms committee. The government of Nawaz Sharif and his brother’s in the Punjab have recently taking steps that is presenting a soft image of Pakistan in the international community. The legislation of Women Protection Act by the Punjab Assembly and the death sentence to Mumtaz Qadri are some examples in this regard. The Nawaz Sharif government is also working on policy for women empowerment but certain judgements that disenfranchise women only because of the absence of adequate laws are going to reflect on the legislative performance of the Nawaz Sharif government. We hope that the government will take immediate steps to enact the law on minimum voting by women in a constituency as a requirement for the returning candidates to be declared successful.




[1] Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation  (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councilor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate.  She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world. Currently, Shad is Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) United State.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

WOMEN’S RESILIENCE AND RESOLVE IN NORTHWEST PAKISTAN: CHAMPIONING CHANGE IN THE FACE OF EXTREMISM

December 09, 2015

03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

ABOUT THE EVENT

The Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of Pakistan, which form part of the country’s northern border with Afghanistan, have long suffered from war, militancy, and economic deprivation, creating fertile ground for the “swift justice” and sharia regulations of militant Islamist groups.  While the Pakistani army has had some success in wiping out extremist elements in the region, the Taliban and other Islamist forces still pose a significant threat. In this context of political instability, women and girls have often been the primary victims of extremist movements that have gained ground through patriarchal and discriminatory means. The suppression of women’s rights, however, has only added to the courage and resolve of those who have stepped forward to demand gender equality, often at the risk of isolation, torture, or even death.  In her presentation, social activist Shad Begum outlined the challenges to women’s political and economic empowerment in PATA and highlighted those change-makers who are surmounting them. Drawing on her experience in the region, she provided recommendations for how best to equip emerging women leaders with the knowledge, skills, and networks needed to build a more equitable future in PATA and Pakistan.

To watch the program, please visit the following link,



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Of Good Manners on Social Media


By Shad Begum[1]

At the outset, I want to appreciate all those men, especially our Pakhtun brothers, from whom I received respect – both as a person and for my work. I do not want to label all Pakhtun men as ill-mannered and disrespectful to Pakhtun women on social media.

I am a social entrepreneur, a women rights activist, married and a mother of two amazing kids – 14 and 12 years old. My work requirements compel me to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter for promoting my work and creating a larger impact through reaching a wide audience, locally and globally.

I belong to a conservative rural area, and for many of the women of my area, it is unimaginable to disclose their pictures and identity locally, let alone to publish it on the social media.

But being a Pakhtun woman and on the social media with a real persona is not an easy task. Sometimes the behavior of some Pakhtun men becomes so undesirable that I have deactivated my account a number of times. One gentleman collected my pictures from my wall on Facebook and published it with the caption, “this is Shad Begum from Dir. These are her own published pictures on Facebook. Just decide yourself which of these pictures are according to Islam or Pashtunwali.” I had to review all posted pictures of myself, which I had taken during my work related activities.

Facebook gives you limited options to define your relationship with your contacts on Facebook. Many Pakhtuns consider acceptance of a “friend request” to be beyond an acquaintanceship. There are even “friend’s requests” by strangers but acceptance of a “friend request” does not mean anything beyond sharing of useful information on Facebook.

I feel embarrassed when men in my list send friend request to women on my list, and even more when I hear from those women friends that someone on my list has harassed them.
I know respected figures sending inappropriate messages through messenger, and I have them on record. Many Pakhtun men believe that Facebook, Twitter, or mobile phones are a good entertainment to kill time and develop friendships with women.

Forget messages through messenger. There are people who comment on my wall in a manner that put me in embarrassment before my family, some of them are also using Facebook and reading my posts and comments. None of these stranger “friends” realize that inappropriate comments on the wall of a Pakhtun woman deprives her of the space that she has been allowed in an otherwise conservative environment where women have limited mobility or interaction with our Pakhtun brothers. Thus, by their inappropriate behavior and poor manners toward women, they further deprive these women of the only space to interact with men in a healthy and positive manner and know each others’ problems.   

Healthy behaviors between genders are formed through positive attitudes. We Pakhtun cannot equal other nations and communities if we do not reform our attitude towards women.

I do not want to single out Pakhtun community or their men for harassing women on social media. This might be experienced by other women too from other communities, but my work, my space, my world, and everything related to Pakhtuns; therefore, I consider it my right voice my concern on the misuse of social media by our Pakhtun brothers.

I hope that my thoughts and feelings are considered in a positive manner and with greater understanding, rather than demonizing the attitude of Pakhtun men. Please keep us, Pakhtun women, in your prayers, Pakhtun brothers and allow us to build a society based on mutual respect and tolerance, together.

***




[1] Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation  (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councillor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate.  She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

ABOLISHING WOMEN VOTERS’ APARTHEID

By Shad Begum[1]


Women voters in Dir Lower district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been consistently deprived of their voting rights since 1985. Women voters in other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face similar situation with some variations. The Peshawar High Court took a Suo Moto action on some media reports that women voters in Nowshehra and Lakki Marwat constituencies were barred to vote, and the PHC stayed the results of the two constituencies in May, 2013 General Elections. Even more recently, the Daily Ayeen reported that some local Jirgas (council of elders) at Peshawar have reached agreements that women shall not vote in the forthcoming Local Government Elections scheduled for May 30, 2015 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has taken a Suo Moto action on some media reports that not even a single woman voter cast her ballot in PK-95 Dir Lower II’s by-elections on May 7, 2015.  The ECP has directed the contesting candidates and some civil society activists, including myself, to appear before the ECP and record their statement as to whether the non-voting by women in PK-95 was a freedom of choice, a coincidence or a pre-planned understanding that women shall not participate in voting. The inquiry proceeding is still in process with additional witnesses to appear before the ECP. It is indeed a great hope that the ECP has taken a Suo Moto action on media reports that women were barred to vote and the decision of the ECP will have far reaching consequences on the behaviour of the Jirga’s and contesting candidates who discourage women from casting their ballots.

There is no written agreement this time in PK-95 to exclude women from voting as was the case in May, 2013 elections, wherein a written agreement surfaced on various websites that showed the signatures of the contesting candidates and some witnesses. Although the signatories as fraudulent contested the authenticity of the agreement of May 10, 2013 in PK-95 because no original copy could be produced in the Court; however, the fact that no single woman cast her vote was a substantial proof that there was some sort of understanding by the local political leadership to exclude women from voting. I myself contested the Local Government Elections in 2001 as an independent candidate and faced the brunt of opposition from various quarters, but despite the negative propaganda against me, I was elected by the electorate as Tehsil Councillor.

There are a number of challenges that discourage the participation of women voters in the elections. The establishing of joint polling stations for men and women voters, wherein the polling booths are separate, but the entry and exist points of the polling stations are not separate. Some political parties’ and their workers use indecent methods to discourage women from entering to the polling stations e.g. the presence of men on the entry points and the absence of women police in the premises. The polling schemes established in a way that is less conducive for women voters in casting their ballots. The women voters’ apartheid is strengthened by the following factors:
  • Local leadership of political parties is not interested to involve women in the political processes at local level.
  • The social structure is male-dominated leaving women disempowered in majority of public processes including politics.
  • Majority of women are economically dependent, which is also one of the major reasons that stop them from taking part in the political process as candidates.
  • Cultural values of discrimination against women are used as a shield to disenfranchise and dis-empower women as voters and candidates.
  • Low literacy rate and lack of opportunities for women lead to lack of interest in politics among women.
  • Security concerns and appointment of male presiding officers in women polling stations discourage women participation during voting.
  • Polling stations are established at un-manageable distances from women voters and joint polling stations discourage women participation in voting.
  • A large segment of women population do not have national identity cards (CNICs), which disenfranchise them in the political process.
  • The lack of adequate arrangements for women with children standing in queue for hours on Election Day is another factor that discourages women participation in the electoral processes.

In order to address these challenges, the following important measures are needed: 
  • That the Parliament of Pakistan should enact legislation that declares all those elections invalid wherein voting by women falls below 10% of the total registered women voters in any constituency.
  • That any attempt, written or verbal agreement to bar women voters is made a criminal offence throughout Pakistan.
  • That the top leadership of all political parties should take disciplinary action against their local leadership in areas where they enter into verbal or written agreements to disenfranchise women from voting.
  • That the Election Commission of Pakistan must fulfil its constitutional responsibility to conduct free and fair elections, which means to take all such measures that ensure the unhindered and free participation of all voters, including women, in the voting process, and to provide such spaces for polling votes, which do not hinder women from casting their votes. These measures shall include arrangements by the election officials i.e. the District Returning Officer and others; to make sure that the polling arrangements for men and women voters are made in a culturally sensitive and appropriate ways.
  • That the government, through the District Administration, make special arrangements to keep watch on speeches and statements by people who declare women voting as un-Islamic and take appropriate action against those who disenfranchise women from voting.
  • That the Election Commission of Pakistan appoints Special Observer Teams to monitor the elections and make sure that the polling arrangements for voting are conducive for free and unhindered movement of women voters, especially in areas having a pattern of women voters’ disenfranchisement through local agreements.





[1] Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation  (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councillor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate.  She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

WE CAN DO IT

By Shad Begum[1]


It is indeed a moment of great pride to see aspiring women from Malakand Division willing to take leading roles in the political processes. Women have faced difficulties in the past in Malakand Division to cast their votes in elections, let alone to contest elections as independent candidates. The “Jamhori Maidan Programme (JMP)” of the Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation (ABKT) is aimed at empowering women and youth in the political processes at the local level. During the last 18 months, 120 women have been trained as potential candidates in the upcoming elections in three districts of Malakand Division. Women and youth have been trained in leadership skills, local government systems, and constituency building and election campaign methods. 

Women have raised issues of public concern along with their male colleagues and more importantly some of these women have now been nominated as members of the District Committees on the Status of Women (DCSW) in the three districts i.e. Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Malakand of Malakand division. These women committees are statutory bodies established under the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) Act, 2009 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and have important functions in promoting gender agenda, preventing gender-based violence, and recommending policy reforms to the provincial government. Trained women leaders have created a space within the political parties in leadership positions and have proven their political skills in promoting the rights of their women folks in their constituencies.

The JMP was also successful to organize the trained women into a sustainable forum known as Gender Responsive Actions Forum (GRAF). A panel discussion was organized to launch the GRAF in which representatives of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW), the Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women (PCSW) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Punjab provinces expressed their views on the challenges and successes of the NSCW and PCSWs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.

Women activists from Upper & Lower Dir and district Malakand attended the panel discussion organized by ABKT at Islamabad. The purpose of the panel discussion was to highlight the achievements of the trained women activists from Swat-Malakand region under the JMP to enable them to share their experiences with leading women rights activists from Pakistan, and interact with members of the two provincial commission and the national commission on the status of women. Young women leaders from Swat-Malakand region shared their views with the participants on working for women’s political empowerment in a challenging environment and requested support from provincial and national bodies working on women rights.

Ms. Meraj Humayun Khan, MPA and member of the PCSW Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the first province to establish the PCSW under an act of the assembly; however, the performance of the PCSW KP is hindered by a number of factors, including the non-existence of a women development ministry at the provincial level. “Women empowerment” is the last part of the Social Welfare, Ushar & Zakat, Special Education and Women Empowerment Department of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Ms. Meraj also said that the voices of millions of women from FATA remain excluded in the PCSW due to absence of representation from FATA.

Another member of PCSW KP, Dr. Saba Gul Khattak said that women empowerment agenda has been dove-tailed to the social welfare department as if women’s rights is a charity work. Dr. Saba said that a disempowered government department cannot produce required results in the area of women empowerment.

Ms. Romana Bashir, member of PCSW Punjab, said that Punjab PCSW is established in 2014 and all the members have been appointed representing each Division in Punjab. She said that the PCSW is gaining momentum under the dynamic leadership of its chairperson – the laws and policies are being reviewed by the Commission to bring it in conformity with Pakistan’s national and international commitments on promoting women rights agenda.

Ms. Farah Bajwah, research consultant of the NCSW said that the National Commission was established in 2000 as a result of Pakistan’s national and international commitments such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995; and National Plan of Action (NPA) for Women, 1998. She said that the latest legislation on NCSW provides greater autonomy to the Commission in its functioning.

Mr. Muhammad Raza, a legal & development professional and human rights activist highlighted the unique constitutional status of provincially administered tribal areas (PATA) and Article 247(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which bars direct legislation for PATA and FATA unless approved by the President or Governor through an official notification. He said that ironically elected representatives from PATA cannot legislate for their own constituents but can do so for the rest of Pakistan. Mr. Raza said that unless a demand is created by a provincial or federal department to extend a particular law to PATA or FATA, the legislation remains non-operational in the tribal areas. He cited the example of section 310-A of the PPC (punishment for giving a female in marriage or otherwise in badal-i-sulh), which has not been extended to PATA so far due to lack of demand by concerned departments/ministry. Pro-women laws are delayed, sometimes for years, to be extended to PATA due to constitutional and bureaucratic procedures.

Ms. Maliha Hussain, a nationally known women rights activist advised the young women leaders to know their rights and stay put to achieve them. “Only a determined effort and clarity of mind can pave the way for reaching your goals”, she told the aspiring young women leaders from Swat-Malakand region.

Ms. Fatima Atif, another women rights activist, highlighted the technology driven violence against women and advised women to be aware of digital security and the penal laws for cyber and digital crimes. She said that the intelligent use of technology and effective digital laws can prevent crimes and violence against women.

We hope that GRAF will go a long way in promoting gender agenda in Malakand Division initially, which will be expanded to the entire Khyber Pakhtunkhwa subsequently. The future plan of action of GRAF includes election observation and establishment of Gender Watch Committees in each district of Malakand Division.









[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage awards,