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Center for Policy Studies

CIIT Islamabad.
Policy Brief by Ambassador (Rtd), Fauzia Nasreen, Advisor, CPS
Gender and Security in the Context of Pakistan
Quarterly Issue, May 2013
This policy brief attempt to examine the
vulnerability of women and their situation in the
following three phases of the conflict especially
in the context of conflict areas in PATA and
Pre-conflict stage briefly looking at the
traditions and customs prevailing in
these societies;
Emotional and other challenges faced
by women during the violent conflict
and its impact on their attitude and
After-effects of contradictions and
polarization due to structural and
systemic imbalance created in the post
conflict phase.
The issue of gender deals with the culturally
defined roles and responsibilities of women and
men. Hence, it will be interesting to see how
these roles get, redefined for various reasons,
as circumstances for women change during the
conflict and more significantly in the post conflict
phase. The case of Swat would be, treated as
central, in understanding the dynamics of
strategies employed by forces vying for political
and security space in Pakistan. Also
psychological transformation of women leading
to the development of a certain mindset that
perpetuates violence, instability and
retrogressive approach would be explored.
1. Background Perspective
Pakistan has been in the storm of the eye, since
the late 1970s with momentous changes
affecting the entire fabric of society. The
intensely polarized world during the height of the
Cold War, revolution in Iran, aftermath of the
creation of Bangladesh, frustration-aggression in
the Middle East and the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, changed the geostrategic
dimensions as they presented complicated
challenges for Pakistan. The most complex
implications were on the socio-economic milieu
with key questions centring on the very question
of identity of South Asian Muslims. The
disillusionment and frustration became manifest
in several ways. A surge in calls for return to the
fundamentals of Islam, for rediscovering Islamic
history and a gradual shift towards obscurantism
became apparent. It was, essentially held that
the cultural distortions were responsible for the
ills that befell the country. This together with
glorification of Jihad during the Afghan
Mujahideens resistance to the Soviet
occupation further led to the entrenchment of a
peculiar version of Islam.
The situation was, compounded by the events of
the 1980s and influx of certain foreign elements
that integrated, in the communities of these
areas through marriages and other filial ties. As
it were, the changing nature of the community
mix and growing trends went unnoticed till the
catastrophic turn of events marked by the
stringent and restrictive measures crushing the
rights of women and extreme intolerance more
so in the aftermath of the 9 September 2001
attacks on the US. Since the areas adjacent to
Afghanistan got engulfed initially in the war
against terror, later in the transformed counter-
insurgency operations and rebuilding of Afghan
nation, ferocity in the resistance from the
extremist elements has continued unabated.
Under the overall umbrella of political agenda
(ranging from resistance to so-called
occupation to imposition of a certain religious-
political ideology), attempts have been to thwart
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any initiative or trend that would take the society toward modernity, development and growth, at
the core of which are the rights of women. The
space for women has begun to shrink and their
vulnerabilities have increased manifold.
Two aspects that seem more relevant would be
highlighted: first, different and orthodox
interpretations of Islam mostly narrowly
describing the role of women in society;
secondly, further deepening of social and
cultural traditions and customs that have
restricted space for women in such geographical
areas as PATA especially those that are now
categorized as conflict-zones. At a holistic level
it is generally said that in the sphere of
womens rights, the absence of an organized
clergy (majority Sunni population of Pakistan
does not have the tradition of organized clergy)
leads to forum shopping for opinions of
religious scholars by government and people to
advance their rights or undermine them as the
case may be. Hence in so far as womens rights
are concerned, Islam will continue to be used by
both the for and against proponents of
womens rights and equality, depending on who
is deploying the argument and at what forum.
This lacuna assumed a fundamental significance
in the militants strategy for holding women of
Swat hostage in furthering their agenda.
As it is, within the confines of the traditionally
based society particularly in the FATA/PATA
and KPK, women had, by-and-large, been
deprived of education, voting and other
opportunities. While comparing the pre- and
post- militant-hold of Swat region, a study
conducted by RIPORT
underlined that
Pakhtunwali customs did give some space to
women in terms of education and social mobility.
However, Pakhtunwali, itself was redefined by
the militants in Swat, and the cultural norms
were then underpinned by the distorted version
of Islam. This was achieved through, a strategy
of indoctrination via radio/FM broadcasts and
denial of space to women outside their homes.
Clearly, a wall was, constructed around them,
separating them from the outside world. With no
diverse source of information and constant
brainwashing, psychological twist was
engineered and women were then made part of
the militants mission.
An interesting aspect would be to look into the
case of Hafsa women of the Red Mosque. To
what extent these women were, manipulated to
conduct unlawful activities while considering that
their religious duty though would require proper
investigation. The point is to emphasize the
pivotal position of women in influencing the
environment around them both in the negative
and positive ways. Also that given the emotional
and psychological vulnerability of women they
can easily be led to culpability in criminal
activities. As RIPORT, study found in the case of
Swat the Pakhtun identity of the women was
replaced by a more stringent anti-feminine
identity that led to keeping the female house-
bound and uneducated which helped the
militants in propping up support and assistance
for the recruitment of husbands and sons. The
study draws the conclusion that thus unwittingly
female became an accessory to a criminal
organization in Swat through her support and
3. Challenges of Violent Conflict facing
It has, generally been observed, that the
militants take advantage of a political vacuum in
any geographical area. Poverty, lack of effective
justice mechanisms and absence of appropriate
social safety nets provide a fertile ground for
such elements to establish their support and
base. As has been seen, in the case of Swat as
per RIPORT analysis a careful narrative was,
developed pretesting, on the failure of state
and/ or government authorities. This softened
attitudes and enabled acceptability of the
militants agenda, which ultimately prepared the
foundation for a vicious cycle of recruitment and
controlling the minds and behaviour of the
captive women.
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Much against the Pakhtunwali traditions in
Swat women were barred from fetching water or
wood for cooking as well as from working
outside their homes. With an obliteration of their
character their complicity in the mission of the
militants increased. Attacks against girls
schools and education per se became the core
of the militants strategy. The process affected
women and girls in several ways. Denial of
opportunity, potential for personal development
and advancement took both material and
psychological toll. Apart from negating their
traditional even though restricted role in the
pakhtun society, it took away their livelihoods,
destroyed the family unit and made them
unproductive citizens.
In the analysis of the conflict challenges for
women, one cannot overlook the compound
effect of natural disasters that have hit the
country since the earthquake of October 2005.
The double impact of these calamities, intensity
in the Taliban incursions and the military
operations, especially since 2008, led to large
scale displacements of communities living in the
northern areas. Most of them had taken refuge
in the KPK creating security problems as well as
issues related with the capacity to absorb the
large numbers. Once a semblance of normalcy
was restored, these temporarily displaced
persons had to be rehabilitated back into the
areas from where they had come.
Studies specifically conducted on how women
population reacted to these situations reveal that
since socially women in the affected areas had
not ventured out of their homes, their dilemma
was whether to leave their homes, unattended
by any male member of the family, for safety. As
earlier explained, in any case, women were
captive to a narrative that severely limited their
roles in the wider societal activities. Both, as a
result, of military action and natural disasters
women were compelled to undertake mobility
and access to services to save themselves from
harm. This symbolized the first step towards
women bracing for the practical world and the
transformation that would bring incremental
altering of the role of women.
Apart from this basic question linked to the
traditional way of life in these areas, the fact
remains that the changing dynamics have
disturbed the traditional equilibrium. As pointed
out by Noeleen Heyzer
, the nature of warfare
has changed and the nature of battlefield has
also changed. In todays violent conflict
environment, the wars are, fought in the heart of
civilian centres that include homes, our schools,
our communities, and increasingly, on womens
bodies. Heyzer further elaborates that there are
three interrelated dimensions, which affect
women both in conflict situation and in transition
to peace. She identified these as:
i) specific impact of war on womens
lives, including various forms of
violence and the erosion of the
economic and social fabric of
ii) the importance of womens
participation in peace processes;
iii) womens role in shaping post-
conflict processes ensuring that
reconstructed societies are
founded on justice, inclusion, and
a commitment to the dignity and
development of all its members.
According to her, it is therefore imperative that
re-stitching the social fabric of families and
communities gives high priority to women and
Another report concentrating on the issue of
impact on women concludes that since women
in any case have very little control over financial
resources, and practically no access to justice
and government services, their hardships get
magnified as widows. Their incapacitation
creates problems of its own as it turns into
medical condition, which normally remains
undetected and untreated. Resultantly they
become a burden and liability on the family and
society. Most importantly, they themselves suffer
from indignation, subhuman life and loss of
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value in their own eyes. The trauma usually
transforms into depression and a good number
of such widows suffer frompanic attacks,
heart pains, and suicide ideation. This is
particularly true when (they are) worried about
caring for children and financial pressures.
danger of them being abused is, real and has
consequences of its own. To seek redress of
any of the harm that might come to them is even
more difficult and full of ordeals beyond their
capacity to deal with them. Therefore, the
government, civil society and all concerned are
under obligation to work out a cohesive
mechanism to reduce their vulnerabilities.
4. Recommendations for The post-conflict
Although in most of the areas that have been
identified, as conflict zones, the post-conflict
phase per se has not commenced. The
challenge now is that simultaneously with the
peace-less-ness, efforts to rehabilitate
communities in particular women and girls must
be undertaken. The starting point would be to
create family data focusing on the kind of
hardships they have suffered, and whether, the
family-unit-cohesion is intact. Once families, with
woman as the surviving head of the family, have
been sifted comprehensive strategies can be
evolved. These could concentrate on trauma
treatment, counselling, rebuilding livelihoods,
social safety and security. An important element
would be the integration of such families in their
communities. This will possibly require an
approach that would on the one hand empower
women and on the other hand connect them well
with the other members of the community.
Attempts to deal with communities will typically
involve the known conflict analysis approaches.
Essentially these will help in identifying the main
actors and issues in the conflict related context.
The ultimate goal will be to transform
relationships where women are accepted as
productive and equal partners in development.
This may appear as an up-hill task but it has
been, successfully achieved, in other parts of
the northern areas of Pakistan. The notion
propagated by MaulanaFazlullah who used FM
radio to broadcast messages exhorting men to
keep women inside the house, declaring them
as the cause of all evils in society (Journal for
Peace, Conflict and Development Issue 19,
December 2012) will have to be forcefully
countered. A great responsibility rests on the
shoulders of the religious leaders who must
come forward and become part of the strategy to
include affected women in the mainstream life of
Pakistan. This is also necessary if true Islamic
values are to be preserved, and are promoted in
the society.
The erroneous concepts about girls education,
women employment, access to health and
participation in initiatives affecting their families
and communities would have to be rectified.
Women must also be encouraged to form issue-
focused groups and create networking
arrangements within their community as well as
with the relevant support organizations and
government agencies. Key male leaders and
other social workers/ activists can play an
important role in creating bridges of positive
communication and in marginalizing the
spoilers. Through targeted campaigns and by
creating groups of Friends at the local and
national levels a constituency of forward looking
and proactive social agents of change can be
constructed. However, for all this to become a
reality awareness campaigns have to be
recognized as an integral part of
the transformation. Media has played an
influential role in exercising pressure on the
policy and decision makers as well as in
highlighting issues that would otherwisego
unnoticed or unaddressed. This is more
so in terms of women issues. However, media
also needs to be sensitized, trained and
informed about various aspects of social issues
and messages that are to be given through their
coverage of such issues. In the end, everyone
in the Pakistani society must share the pain
and suffering of those who have been,
unfortunately harmed because of various
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ShaheenSardar Ali article Navigating Religion, Politics and
Cultural Norms: The Arduous Journey toward Domestication
of CEDAW in Pakistan,
Khalid Aziz, Swat Low Intensity Conflict: Criminalizing the
Female, April 2010, RIPORT
Women, War and Peace: Mobilizing for Security and
Justice in the 21st Century, by Noeleen Heyzer
Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict- CIVIC report
titled Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan
Overview of situation of women in Pakistan a joint study
by GT2 CB and former Ministry of Women Development
Ambassodor (Rtd.) Fauzia Nasreen, Advisor, Centre for
Policy Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information
Technology, Faculty Block I, Park Road, Chak Shahzad,
Islamabad 44000, PAKISTAN