Swat valley has yet another feather to add to its cap. After Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tabassum Adnan another Swat valley woman was among the 10 extraordinary women from 10 countries, who
Swat valley has yet another feather to add to its cap. After Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tabassum Adnan another Swat valley woman was among the 10 extraordinary women from 10 countries, who were awarded the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in recognition of her services of women’s rights.
Born in 1977, Tabassum Adnan is a remarkable woman doing remarkable things for women in Pakistan’s formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley. She is recognized as one of the rare group of people in Pakistan to stand up against patriarchy and take active steps towards defending women’s rights. Tabassum established the first ever women-only Jirga.
Tabassum Adnan grew up in the Swat Valley. She was a child bride at 13, mother of four and a victim of domestic violence, when she divorced her husband of 20 years. Finding herself homeless and without means of support, Tabassum attended a women's empowerment programme run by a local aid group. It inspired her to work to change women's ability to participate in decision-making processes. Initially she approached the male-only, main Swat Qaumi Aman Jirga, but was rejected. Jirgas are traditional informal judicial councils which enforce qisas, retribution laws, and though not intended to replace formal judicial systems or police procedures, decisions of the elders are socially respected and do often impact the judiciary.
In May 2013, Tabssum started her own Jirga (The Khwendo Jirga, or Sister’s Council), the first run by women in the country. Traditionally, women in the region have been used as chattel to settle disputes of men, traded in marriage to absolve debts, claims of honour, and retribution for crimes. Because women have little power, Adnan recognized that her group would need to pressure authorities to act. Her 25-member all-female jirga pressures police and the traditional court system to act while providing legal assistance to the victims.
In addition to providing justice support for women advocate for free education for girls, protection of women and girl's health, training in both traditional domestic and non-traditional vocational skills, micro-financing, access for women to peace negotiations, justice, and voting and laws which protect women from violence, specifically, honour killings, dowry harassments, acid attacks, and torture. Initially the Khwendo Jirga was opposed both by men's jirgas and prominent women's rights activists.
Most of the time decisions in Jirga are made against women and without their consent or presence. Cases involving murder, which are settled by giving away a woman from the perpetrators family to marry a member the victim’s family as form of compensation, are common. In more cases then not, women pay the price for a crime they have never committed. Courageously, Tabassum has vowed to stand against such patriarchal injustices.
In 2014 an event happened, which changed the public perception of Adnan's group. A child was raped and the authorities failed to act. Khwendo Jirga organized a protest walk bringing visibility to the case. The suspects were apprehended and for the first time in Pashtun history, a woman, Tabassum, was asked to sit on the male jirga and assist with dispensing justice in the case.
Since the first protest, the women have repeated the success and in July, 2014, Tabassum and Khwendo Jirga were lobbying for the passage of a law prohibiting child marriages. Despite strong protest from religious factors, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a ban on marriages for anyone under the age of eighteen and in December, 2014 the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to work on amending the present law.
Thanks to Tabassum, women are gaining confidence in participating fully in formerly male-only social spaces in the Swat Valley. To further strengthen the cause of women rights, Tabassum is currently working with youth and inspiring them to come forward and make their own contributions to forging a more inclusive and non-violent society. She attends meetings and workshops, educating women about their rights and supporting them to find a voice, while showing them how to not be afraid. It is thanks to these bold steps by Tabassum that for the first time in Malakand district women came out of their homes and onto the streets to protest against the cutting of electricity and gas. Thanks to Tabassum’s leadership and courage more and more women are demanding their place and their rights in Pashtun society.
Since their first success with the men's jirga, Tabassum has been invited to participate on other cases dealing with women's issues. Though she still receives threats Tabassum continues, as she believes that women should be part of the decision-making processes that affect their lives.
In 2013, Tabassum was awarded the Human Defenders Award, in 2014 she was a nominee for the N-Peace Empowerment Award and in 2015 she won a US State Department International Women of Courage Award.