Just as we were mourning the tragic (and brutal, I must add) demise of Pashto singer Ghazala Javed, we suddenly learn that another Pashtun woman – this time a human rights activist, Farida Afridi – has now suddenly faced the same inhumane fate.
Like Ghazala Javed she, too, was shot down dead in broad daylight. It was reported that she was murdered by members of the Taliban, as she was driving on her way home from Hayatabad, Peshawar to Jamrud (in Khyber Agency). And, hence, yet another innocent life was stolen.
At only 25, Farida had visions to help her Pashtun women; help them fight against inequality and oppression; help them become the women they yearned and deserved to become; help them recognize their basic human rights; and help them realize what it is like to be human again, after being treated like third class citizens in a society where a woman’s worth is lower than that of an ant. But she was never given that chance, which is not only a loss on its own, but it’s a great loss to our Pashtun nation – a “nation” that is crumbling into a million pieces right before our very eyes!
However, the thing I failed to comprehend initially was: What wrong did Farida Afridi do to earn her this horrible fate? Was it simply because she was involved in something that she wasn’t supposed to be doing? What could she have been doing that was so wrong; so immoral; so forbidden that it left a group of mad men no choice but to take her life; and that, too, so callously? Of course, the more I read about her story and about her murder, the more I began to understand why. And it sickened me. It truly and utterly sickened me.
Farida Afridi was the co-founder of Sawera (Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas) — an organization, established in 2004, as a nongovernmental organization to help in the development of rural women and children in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. And because she was working in FATA, her biggest “crime” was that she was trying to improve the lives of fellow Pashtun women – something that she was not supposed to do, because it went against everything that radical groups like the Taliban believed in.
Also, because FATA is not bound by Pakistani laws, female (as well as male) NGOs who come to work there in order to bring positive changes to the environment and the lives of people living there, especially women, hardly see the light of day. Their lives are brutally taken, more so as a warning, to ensure that future NGOs refrain from working in the region in fear that they too will face the same fate. And most of the times they do meet similar fates, but we don’t hear about them, for not all murders are reported. I am sure that if each and every single murder were reported, we would surely not eat or sleep for days. The statistics would be truly horrifying and utterly traumatic.
Nevertheless, I have to be honest. When I first heard about Farida Afridi, I did not know much about her: who she was, where she came from, and what she’d done. And I only learned about her death when a friend posted a link about her murder (from the Express Tribune) on my Facebook wall. I was expecting to see a picture of a smiling, uncovered woman, but instead, I saw a woman, fully clad in a black burka (with only her eyes visible) seated in front of a computer, with her hands on the keyboard, looking down like as if she were in the midst of typing something. And I couldn’t help thinking: here is a woman, dressed conservatively to a T, and she was shot dead for trying to help our women? How is that wrong, or even possible, for that matter? Not only did she comply with the “Taliban’s standard” of the dress code – a woman covered fully from head to toe. But, unlike other “victims” like Ghazala Javed, Bakht Zamina, Shamim Aiman Udas, etc., who were actively involved in the media as singers/dancers, hence dubbed as “damey” (a derogatory Pashto word for those who sing/dance) in the eyes of many conservative Pashtuns, making it that much more blatant for them to be killed; Farida was the complete opposite.
Now I am not trying to say that the murders of women like Shamim Aiman Udas could be justified, for they, too, like Farida had no reason, whatsoever, to die. However, what I am trying to say is that in the eyes of many Pashtuns, Farida’s murder can never be justified, for she truly depicted the “image” of a respectable woman; a woman who amiably complied with “religious” conduct and refrained from exploiting herself, verbally or physically. And, yet, she was still murdered, which makes one wonder: Is this a war on the emancipation of women, or is it on the women themselves? Or both?
Furthermore, what makes these horrid militants think that their caveats will necessarily stop those who are passionate about human rights and wish to see the development and emancipation of Pashtun women? Would it stop me, considering the fact that, I, too, am currently dedicating my whole life to the social and intellectual development of rural Pashtun women in all of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa? Well, the answer is no. The Taliban/militants may do everything in their power to threaten; to warn; and murder each and every humanitarian/NGO worker that dares to set foot in FATA (or in any other tribal region within Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), but that doesn’t mean that that is where it will all end. There will always be someone who will try to step up to these goons; to show them what we, Pashun women, are about; what we are capable of; and that we are not afraid to stand up to them, nor are we afraid of their pathetic guns.
Yes, bullets may kill. And they may stop us temporarily. But they’re only fooling themselves if they think that these bullets can stop us for good.
Brave women like Farida Afridi deserves justice, for I would want nothing more than to see her killers found and hung, if not put in prison for life. No NGO or humanitarian worker deserves to die the way she did, without cause; without reason; without justice. This is nothing but a menace to society, and to future Farida Afridis.
And, yes, there will indeed be many future Farida Afridis. Many, many more. I am certain of it.
May her dear soul rest in peace.
The Pashto version of SesapZai's article can be accessed here
Samar Esapzai is a PhD student in international rural development, focusing on Gender and Development of Pashtun women.
Disclaimer: Views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safe World for Women or its staff.