A Women's Jirga in Swat

    Written by: Eeman Amjad
    Posted on: April 28, 2015 | Post your comment here Comments

    (l-r) Dr. Sultan-i-Rome, Shirin Gul and Tabassum Adnan - 3rd ILF 2015: A Women's Jirga in Swat

    (l-r) Dr. Sultan-i-Rome, Shirin Gul and Tabassum Adnan

    Swat, once a center for tourism, tolerance and peace, is now a city infamous for the 2009 military operation. However, as the moderator for the session, Zeeshan Noel, highlighted, Swat has given birth to many brave young girls and women. He introduced Tabussum Adnan, founder of the first female Jirga, in an endeavor to create a space that was exclusively for women.

    The session began with an introduction by Shirin Gul, a development practitioner who had been studying the role of the first female Jirga and connecting it to the larger women’s rights movement in the country. She believed that both organizations and individuals could learn a lot from these resilient women, who had knocked on every door to voice their grievances, but to no avail. This, she attributed to the notion that it was hard for the general Pakistani imagination to include women in the public sphere. The dire need for the women’s jirga was in order to expand the space for their voices to be heard.

    Tabassum Adnan, the representative of the women’s jirga, elaborated on the creation of the ‘Khwendo Jirga’ or the ‘sister’s council’. Tabassum herself was a victim of child marriage, and later, of domestic abuse. However, after leaving her husband, she transformed her life to empower women in the decision-making process. Her rationale was, “if you can use us to resolve conflict, then why shouldn’t we be allowed to have a voice regarding our own destiny?” Unequivocally rejecting the practice of Swara, she emphasized the need to protect voiceless women against this practice. After being rejected from male jirgas and other state institutions, she decided to form her own women’s jirga, which would be different from all other jirgas in that it wouldn’t decide the fate of others, but would use state institutions and laws to resolve issues and protect women.

    While the women on the panel voiced the need for enhancing space for women in society, the men on the panel approached the topic very differently. Dr. Sultan-i-Rome, a historian, addressed the misrepresentation of jirgas in the media. Jirga is not supreme, he iterated. There is no leader; it is a roundtable for negotiations with no fixed members. He was quick to dismiss the Khwendo Jirga as simply another NGO working in the development sector. He also believed that while women were not given a voice in the jirga’s decision, the men were also excluded. He voiced his concern that the oppression and deprivation that was inflicted upon men was never highlighted. Similarly, Ahmed Fouad dismissed the debate, as he felt that Pushtuns were unnecessarily scrutinized for oppressing women, and that other cultures and societies in the country, such as Punjabis, were more violent towards their women.

    The debate heated up further as the floor opened for questions. An audience member from FATA insisted that the jirga system served only the elite, while women and poor families were excluded from the decision-making process. Finally, Shirin Gul ended the discussion by stating that these women were not looking to abolish any system, but to reform it and give space to the voiceless.


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