PESHAWAR: In Pakistan, some people join parties based on either certain leaders of the party that they like, because their family does so, or they have some ties to the party. But in an area which straddles the border with Afghanistan, one girl decided to back a party based on its past efforts and its vision statement.
“Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is a political party which believes in delivering to the masses, making performance-based claims and its manifesto is more people-friendly, has empowered women financially through the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), and by allotting parliamentary seats to most deserved political workers than other political parties in the country,” explains 19-year-old Jemima Afridi.
Hailing from the Khyber tribal district (previously part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas), in the Landi Kotal Tehsil, Afridi heads the women’s wing of the local party chapter.
Afridi is part of a large nine-member family. Her father was a sergeant-major in the local Khasadar unit.
Her parents, though, made sure that she got an education and also learnt how to protect herself — having learnt Wushu and boxing and stood third in the inter-district games held in March.
It was her interest in the social and economic uplift of women in her area, where she had volunteered for child and mother healthcare, which endeared her to the PPP.
“I am among the tribal district girls who always wished to be a part of a political party which believes in gender equality, women empowerment, and after thorough research, I found that the PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto the best amongst all the others,” she said.
Her efforts yielded rewards in the form of the party taking notice and entrusting with the leadership of the local women wings.
“They bestowed me what I dreamed of,” Afridi beamed.
Afridi, though, exhibits political maturity far beyond those who are twice her age.
“Political maturity is sense which could knock at each individual door earlier for some, and for some at later stages of their life while some may die without ever encountering it in their life, I am the person who blessed this sensed at an early age” she explained.
Women in a male-dominated society
Despite the fact that the tribal areas are now merged with the settled areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) it has done little to alter course for the male domination of the tribal society. The idea that a female student becomes a political leader in such area or interacts with the men of the party is quite unimaginable.
Afridi said that as a medical student, she dreams about becoming a doctor as well as a political and social worker.
Knowing that even these modest dreams are difficult to achieve, Afridi is optimistic about her chances of making those dreams come true one day.
As far as her political strides are concerned, she credited the PPP for being a progressive party which set a new precedent by empowering women from low-income strata of society and from the minority communities, unlike other political parties.
“I helped register around 28,000 female families under the BISP irrespective of their political affiliations, I tried to make women independent from their male partners in financial affairs,” Afridi said, detailing her short but impactful role.
She lamented that the political candidates in the area strike mutual agreements to bar women from partaking in the voting process.
“If such a process continues in the future, I will challenge it with authorities concerned,” she said.
“I urge women of the tribal districts to take part in the political process for their own sake, for safeguards of their political, social and financial rights. If they did, it will be a new dawn in the history of this country,” she concluded.
Dr Qaleem Shinawari, a leading educationist from Khyber, explained that the tribal districts have been neglected in every walk of life and political participation by women is quite encouraging.
“Previously dominated by men, but Afridi has forced other women voters to take part in the process for their own good well,” Dr Shinawari said.
He added that compared to her contemporaries, Afridi was eager to work hard for the electoral campaigning, even eclipsing efforts by the party’s official candidate for NA-43 Hazart Wali.
Commenting on public perception about Afridi, Khyber Youth Forum Chairman Bakht Ali Shah said that a few years ago, it was unimaginable for a woman to even work in the social sector in the area, let alone campaign for a party.
However, Shah added that things had changed drastically after several military operations in the area to flush out the militants.
With the area merged into the rest of the province, he said that it was possible that Afridi could become a role model for other women of the area.
“She was the only female political leader who stood against Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in the then Fata, raised her voice at every platform in the area and she also been praised by the leaders of other political parties in the district, becoming a symbol for resistance,” Shah added.
“Her family sacrificed their tribal traditions and allowed her to enter politics, sports and social activities of the area. Now, the PPP should let her continue her due role in the party” Dr Shinwari added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2018.
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