PESHAWAR: Maryam Bibi is working on women’s issues in Pakistan’s most difficult areas – tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan – where men find it almost impossible to work.
“Educated women have made progress towards achieving rights and continuing the march for extending the territory under control,” the women’s rights activist working with Khwendo Kor, or Sisters’ Home, told Daily Times on the eve of International Women’s Day marking the struggle for equal rights for the women. The women’s rights champion stated: “Many women are progressing. But they are those who are educated.” Maryam Bibi has no hesitation to acknowledge the fact that education is making the difference.
The outside world finds it harder to accept that Pakhtuns are liberals in relation to women’s rights given the current situation concerning the Taliban phenomena. However, Rukhshanda Naz, one of the country’s leading women’s rights activists, challenges this notion. “Increasing incidents of oppression are not just because of Pakhtun culture. It is a result of religious extremism. I believe religious extremists used patriarchal norms within the Pakhtun culture to reinforce a particular ideology,” she said while talking to Daily Times after her return from England where she did her LLM degree.
She enlists the women who excelled to prove they are equally capable of doing works in areas where men are supposed to be proving mettle. “We have a woman as prime minister, speakers, governor and general in Pakistan Army, 64 in the (national) Parliament and 134 in the four provincial assemblies, 19 women in the Senate, woman governor of State Bank of Pakistan, five women pilots in Pakistan Air Force and one woman fighter pilot.”
“Pakhtun women have led and actively participated in political struggles, often under the most difficult circumstances. It is, therefore, not unusual to have Pakhtun women leading in areas which are traditionally regarded as male domains,” former MP Bushra Gohar joined other champions of women rights to stress the need for continued efforts. Bushra Gohar, who is activist of Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party, pointed to the political movement her leader Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan led.
“Khudai Khidmatgars placed women’s rights, especially right to education and inheritance at the centre of their movement attracting many women to join as members,” she said.
“Women have fought for their legal, social, economic and political rights. As a result, Pakhtun women are making their mark in every field, including agriculture, medicine, education, art, poetry, technology, politics etc.” Bushra Gohar seconded Rukhshanda Naz underlining the “greatest threat” religious extremism and terrorism were posing to the Pakhtun social values and way of life. “It threatens to reverse the gains made by women through years of hard work and uphill struggle. By targeting girls schools they attack our future.”
She said the wheels of progress and back push the Pakhtun women to darkness would not be let happen. “I am convinced the Pakhtuns will continue to resist the wave of extremism and Talibanization and women will be at the forefront of this movement. The example of Malala Yousafzai and many others like her are before us who stood up for their rights an dchallenged the forces of darkness. “Malala has become a symbol of resistance against religious extremism and Talibanization,” Bushra Gohar proudly declared adding that Malala story is changing the world’s perspective about the Pakhtun’s culture.