Pakistan's Northwest Territory (also known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas) is not a friendly place to be a woman. The ultra-conservative region, which has a heavy Taliban presence, places extreme limits on the rights of women, to the extent that they are not even allowed to leave their homes without a male family member. This is the area of Pakistan where 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education.
It is a brave woman who demands to be heard here. Luckily, the rugged mountains that have hewn the region’s fierce independent streak have also produced some equally indomitable women.
The region’s latest hero is 40-year-old Badam Ziri, who has declared her intent to run for a parliamentary seat in Bajaur, which is a subdivision of the territory. In a place where women's votes have been banned, against the federal government’s will, Badam’s decision is a courageous one that risks angering Taliban militants. She remains undeterred: "There will be a lot of people opposing me, but we will try our best."
Another inspiring tribal Pakistani woman is Maria Toorpakai Wazir, a star female squash player from Waziristan who for years disguised herself as a boy in order to play the sport - and then suffered condemnation when her gender became known. Her father was threatened with “dire consquences” if he continued to allow her to play. Maria now trains in Toronto with Canadian squash champion Jonathon Power, who says she could become “the best player in the world”.
ActionAid welcomes all moves towards women’s advancement and is working towards a future in which women can speak their minds, leave their houses unaccompanied and run for office without fear of recrimination. ActionAid Pakistan has women’s rights at the heart of its programming. We stand firmly behind Malala's goal of bringing “peace and girls’ education to every part of [Pakistan] and across the globe”. We are helping to form women’s groups in rural areas to teach women and girls about their rights, as well as the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).
We prioritised women in our emergency response to the devastating floods of 2010 and in 2006 fought for reforming the unjust Huhood Ordinances a set of laws which discriminate against women by criminalising rape victims. As Pakistan is set to become the largest recipient of British aid – £450 million by 2015 – we will continue to advance women’s rights and gender equality in Pakistan.