Over 40 tribal elders in the Bannu region of Pakistan voted to ban women from collecting food aid for Internally Displaced Persons fleeing the military offensive in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Witnesses report seeing men slap women who had joined the line for food rations. The women reportedly left quickly after experiencing such violence, but the question remains as to how widows or women unaccompanied by men will receive aid. One man distributed leaflets discouraging women from attempting to attain food rations with a warning to husbands who fail to keep their women at home. The Bannu region is especially conservative, where women wear full-length burqa robes and rarely venture outside their homes.
Violence and discrimination against women in Pakistan have plagued the country, as recently as on July 23 when unknown assailants threw acid at two women at a shopping center in Baluchistan. A similar attack occurred one day earlier when four women were attacked with acid. In both attacks, the perpetrators rode past on motorcycles spraying their victims with acid. Officials believe the crimes to be the work of religious extremists in the area.
In March, the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body that provides legal advice to the Pakistani government, said laws that ban child marriage are “un-Islamic.” Current laws require boys to reach the age of 18 before marriage, and girls the age 16. Chairman of the Council Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani continued, “Sharia allows men to have more than one wife, and we demanded that the government should amend the law.”
Child marriage in Pakistan, according to experts, explains the country’s high infant mortality rate, as early marriage results in frequent pregnancies with inadequate preparation. The country also has lower reproductive and maternal healthcare coverage for women than its neighbors India, Bangladesh or Nepal.
Over 990,000 people left the North Waziristan following the June airstrikes known as the Zarb-e-Azb operation, and 84 percent of these IDPs have fled to the Bannu District. North Waziristan has long served as a haven for militants in Pakistan and although the Pakistani government claimed to have targeted all militant groups equally, the U.S. and many locals say Pakistan protected the Haqqani group, which has been based in Waziristan for decades. Many accuse the Pakistani military of allowing Haqqani militants to escape before the operation began. The U.S. sees the Haqqani as a threat to stability in Afghanistan, and is withholding $300 million in aid to Pakistan until the Secretary of Defense determines Pakistan to have “significantly disrupted” the Haqqani network.
The Pakistani military has used militants as proxies in Afghanistan and India for decades. Experts believe the operation — which has killed over 450 since June — is intended to primarily target Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, central Asian and Arab militants in the region that militants have traditionally used to launch attacks on Afghanistan.
The U.S. military has since joined Pakistan with its drone strikes on Saturday that killed 15.
– Erica Lignell