First female jirga system in Pakistan battles for women’s rights

Women from Pakistan’s Swat valley are creating their own jirga system to bring about justice for women. The age-old system previously run by men has been outlawed by government. Dina Patel investigates how a women-only jirga wants to shape the future of women in the region.

An all-male jirga system
An all-male jirga system

Women from Pakistan’s Swat valley have created the first all-female jirga system to bring about more justice for women. The jirga system, an assembly of elders who gather to settle disputes within the community, has been deemed unlawful by the government but it still persists in some parts of Pakistan. The system is run by men only and rulings have often discriminated against women.

The system can award capital punishment, stoning to death and expulsion from the community. In spite of a ban imposed in 2004 by the High Court of Sindh Karachi (SHC), the jirga continues to resolve disputes within the community. Earlier this year, during the hearing of a petition filed by Shazia Mangi and Ehsan Chachar of Daharki, the SHC single bench banned all trials conducted under the jirga system throughout Sindh. Shazia Mangi and Ehsan Chacher had married of their free will and sought protection for their lives. The SHC single bench ordered that those found violating the SHC orders will be charged under the contempt of court law.

Justice Rehmat Hussain Jaffery described the jirga system as unlawful and illegal. Whilst the government aims to extinguish the system, the first all-female jirga in Pakistan, called Khwaindo Tolana which means ‘sister’s group’, aims to bring more justice to the female members of the community. In Swat, the men make the bulk of the decisions, in particular whether their daughter should go to school and who and when they should marry. With the threat of this being taken away by the women, according to a recent BBC report by Orla Guerin, the women are making some powerful enemies through their involvement with jirga founder, Tabassum Adnan. Ms Adnan told the BBC: “”Our society is a male-dominated society, and our men treat our women like slaves. They don’t give them their rights and they consider them their property. Our society doesn’t think we have the right to live our own lives.”

A PDI Publication which looked into the role of the tribal jirga in violence against women found that in the eyes of tribal jirga, killing a woman in the name of honour is not a crime. Tribal jirga considers the killer as a victim and grieved party, and in its process of verdict ensures compensation for the killer of the women and his family. While examining the codes, rules, regulations and verdicts of the tribal jirga the study, Role of Tribal Jirga in Violence against Women, A Case Study of Karo Kari, in Sindh concludes that there are sufficient negative impacts of tribal jirgas on violence against women especially as the tribal jirgas not only provide relief to the killers but even encourage them on killing a women by providing them compensation.

The study suggests reforms in the country’s formal criminal laws as well as the laws dealing with violence against women. The study also recommends increasing awareness and education in the rural society. In the meantime, the women in Swat valley are adamant on using the jirga to their own advantage, to settle their disputes and to encourage justice amongst the community.

 

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