Women in Pakhtun Long March: Building Peace and Challenging Stereotypes
A group of young Mehsud men from FATA started a peaceful march towards the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad on 1st February 2018, which later transformed into Pashtun Long March. Afghan brethren across the border also showed solidarity with the peaceful protesting Pashtuns of North West.
This generation of Pashtun men grew into adulthood amid bomb blasts, bombardments, military operations, displacement and drone attacks. Pashtuns participating in the long march and sit-in both from settled and tribal areas are victims of non-stop madness since 1979. Every man and woman in the sit-in from the North-West region has a story to narrate and grief to share. To war-torn and oppressed Pashtuns, it was a forum of grieving and expression of anguish against war, displacement, bombing, extra-judicial killings of their dear ones, missing persons, landmines and state apathy towards them and their suffering. During the march towards Islamabad and subsequent sit-in, the main protagonist Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen not only united Pashtuns but also provided space to the women, busting the conservative Pashtun man image.
Women participating in the movement for the restoration of peace and rights in Pashtun region proved that they are integral to the peace building and ready to adopt a public and political role. Almost every woman present in the sit-in was given a chance to address the huge crowd of Pashtun men. Unlike many sit-ins in the capital, they were not harassed, stared at or reported any issues sitting all night along with male demonstrators. Men and women chanted the freedom song “what sort of freedom is this, we are not allowed to breathe or live” together; a powerful act of unity and equality. The beauty of the movement is that it has given a space to women, and the young generation of Pashtun men have realized the importance of women’s presence and participation in the peace building process. Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen, our humanist, feminist and patriot Pashtun visited KHOR - a feminist organization and movement empowering Pashtun women politically, socially and economically in the region – to express gratitude for women’s support and active participation. He also highlighted the importance of women’s role in the movement, expressed his desire to revive the old structures in which women were equal, strong and independent.
Woman participants in the historic Pakhtun Long March and sit-in, February 2018.
History is witnessed to several strong and dedicated Pashtun women in peace building and movements. Before militarization and Taliban-ization, Pashtun culture always provided a room to woman in peace building; she was allowed to use her social connections to stop warring tribes. She several times went into Nanawatay (ask for forgiveness) to stop years of enmities between tribes. Unfortunately, militarization and radicalization has transformed certain cultural practices that has restricted women’s movement and role.
Woman in Landikotal, protesting against the unlawful detention of her sons.
Today, however, we are witnessing a change after a wave of radicalization. During the sit-in, a woman from Landikotal, FATA, came out on the road, blocked it, and started protesting against the unlawful detention of her sons. She was soon joined by thousands of men and women, which resulted in the release of her sons and many others unlawfully detained. Later in Bajaur and Swat, women took part in the protests against unlawful detentions and check-posts. Before all such protests and sit-in’s, women in Parachinar, FATA, sat in the sit-in along with their men after deadly bomb blast and later shooting by the military that resulted in killings of nearly 200 people. It must be mentioned that the local mainstream media largely ignored these demonstrations until the international media started covering it. The role and leadership of Pakistani and Pashtun women must not be ignored by the media, the government, nor our own society.
About the author: Dr. Noreen Naseer is a scholar and academic from conflict-ridden FATA currently working as a faculty member in the Political Science Department of Peshawar University and is a Founding Member of KHOR, a feminist organization and movement empowering Pashtun women politically, socially and economically in the region.