Tradition and Honour

You want tradition? Here’s some tradition.

In this quiet northern valley, tucked into the Himalayan foothills, tradition and threats have forced Shad into an electoral profile so low it is almost invisible. She will never leave this high-walled compound to canvass votes, never knock on a single door…And even if Shad wins a seat in Lower Dir, an arch-conservative corner of North West Frontier Province, there is no guarantee the local Pashtun men will allow her to occupy it.

They don’t like the idea, you see. It’s not the tradition.

Since 2001 four women councillors have been killed in Frontier province. The latest victim died in June. Zubeida Begum, a veteran women’s rights campaigner, was shot nine times at her home in Upper Dir, close to Shad Begum’s home. The gunmen, who included one of her own relatives, also killed her 19-year-old daughter.


Hostility has been stoked by tribal and religious leaders who view women politicians as an insult to Pashtun custom and an unforgivable affront to Islam. “There is no place for a woman’s authority under sharia law,” says Maulana Hifz ur-Rehman, a cleric and former jihadi fighter who runs a madrasa on a mountain slope outside Ziarat Talash.

No, of course not, for obvious reasons – because men’s authority is so much more wise, and just, and compassionate.

Still, intimidation and social pressure is rife. Shad Begum says she has been tarred as a “Jewish conspirator” in a whispering campaign against her family because her aid agency receives help from western donors. “They say we are brazen people without honour,” says her brother, Shad Muhammad, whose pharmacy in Ziarat Talash has been attacked. “They say you want to take your women into the streets, and take ours with them.” Shad says the struggle is worth it. In the cloistered, tradition-bound world of Lower Dir, where women hardly dare step on the street, access to health and education is woeful. The district has just three female doctors for a population of more than 800,000; hardly any girls attend school; and so-called “honour killings” are common.

Honour. What a joke.

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