Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Rest in Peace: Farida Afridi

On Pashtun Women's Activism: RIP, Farida Afridi!

by  Qrratugai

Farida Afridi, a Pashtun women's rights leader and activist in Khyber Pashtunkhwa (Pakistan), was killed last Friday, July 6th 2012. It hurts to say out loud, "Another Pukhtana killed because of her work." How is one not to feel angry knowing that our society has yet to figure out how to utilize women's voice and skills because, for the past several millennia, few if any societies viewed women as anything more than child-bearing sex machines? 


Farida Afridi
She was the 25-year-old founder of a women-led organization, SAWERA, the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas; according to their website, their vision is: "To develop a just society based on equality, indiscrimination, honor and dignity, peace and security for all and where individual are respected without status, tribe, ethnicity or religion." While the organization works to empower women, it hasn't limited its efforts and activism to women alone and is in fact working for the betterment of our society as a whole. It has given equal focus to the youth as well.


Another commendable fact about the organization:
SAWERA is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization dedicated to social and economic development, with due regard for ecological conservation, gender mainstreaming, and social protection – partcularly focusing on the backward areas and marginalized sectors of the communities, especially women and children. The founding members have rich experiences in social engineering, participatory development, disaster management, gender mainstreaming and poverty alleviation initiatives through resource management in a systematic approach.
The worst part is this: neither Farida nor her sister, Noorzia (who co-founded the organization with Farida), ever did anything that could insult their honor or their family's honor. As her sister says, "We told our parents that we would work in accordance with our religious and cultural traditions, assuring them that we would never let the family honour suffer because of our line of work. Finally, they agreed [to let us found this organization]." Shame on the killer(s). May justice be served, if not in this world then in the next. Aameen.


And when we talk about these things openly and bring up our Pashtun society into it (i.e., suggest it's a social problem and our being Pukhtun has something to do with it), many Pashtuns try to silence us. Perhaps it's because of that same effort to smother the truth that we are witnessing the murder of a courageous young woman whose purpose in life was to help improve the lives of our people. So shut up and don't lecture me about how it's not like it's all women! Or how the Pashtun society isn't the only one where things like this happen. Just shut up. I'm sick of these excuses. What do they do for me and for you and for other women and for our children and for our future and for our people and for our society? Nothing. Nothing other than just shoving these crimes under the carpet until another woman's life is taken. Who wants to count the number of women we have murdered in under one year because they were publicly/socially involved in promoting peace and stability, or otherwise being known publicly for some important achievement? It is the unfortunate reality of our society that sometimes, to work for peace, you have to do things your society is not accustomed to, such as making your presence known--not because you want attention but because it's necessary for what you're doing. And so you become a "public" figure, and, well, what to say other than that our society isn't ready for women's "publicity"! It's an insult to the superficiality we call family honor. To hell with honor when we have to kill someone in order to protect it! Could a human life be worth any less?

Apparently, our society isn't ready for those kinds of women, or for women activism in general. But hear me out: our society doesn't have to be ready for it for us to do it anyway. Our society will never be ready for it if we keep thinking, "For now, I'll keep myself on the low because my people just aren't ready for what I do. I'll make sure my daughters do it or my granddaughters or my great-great granddaughters." Stop lying to yourself. Stop fooling yourself. If you can't/don't do it but you sincerely want to, then your great-great granddaughters will not be able to do it either. They won't be able to do anything you're not able to do as long as we keep killing women like Farida Afridi.


As Pashtuns--and especially as Pashtun women--incidents like this pose a major challenge for us, who sincerely hate and often disagree with the popular image that is painted of our people. On the one hand, we don't want to be portrayed as victims and we don't want to victimize ourselves; it's like, "You think Pashtun women are in danger? You think we're all oppressed? Look at me - I'm not! Do I not count as a Pashtun woman? I'm living proof that we're not all in a bad situation." And we don't realize that by assuming that people are oppressed individually rather than collectively, we are in fact supporting this injustice against women. No. Just because you and I are fine individually does not mean we are safe as a group--or that other women are safe individually, too. But on the other hand, when our women are assassinated and harassed, our own people tell us, "It's not like it happens every day," as though that's supposed to make us think all's well and dandy. And we keep telling ourselves and to other people, "No, no this really isn't us! We are much better than this, and the media just only shows you our negative side." But these are excuses! It is excusing and dismissing the reality as "not representative of our people." It's like saying, "Look, ignore the killings of these innocent women; focus instead on our good side, like how hospitable we are. Women are killed all over the world, why just highlight the issue when Pashtuns do it? Besides, we're not oppressed as long as I'm not oppressed as an individual." Oh please - hospitable? Who are we hospitable to when we can't be hospitable to our own people, when our women are at risk because of men (and in many cases women, too) who are walking happily and proudly among us and will never be punished for their crimes because the concept of justice simply does not exist where we come from? Yes, women are victims everywhere in every society. We're not safe anywhere: men rarely get raped (they do--but rarely), men never, ever get killed for the sake of the family's "honor," men don't get killed because of a certain profession or choice. In other words, there don't seem to be any crimes that are traditionally committed against men only. Certain crimes are committed only against women. But who says no one highlights the killing of women in other societies? Or do we see it only as a highlight when our race is the one on trial? Besides, even admitting that this happens in our society isn't enough. We have to talk about what's going on and why; we have to understand the problem in order to figure out how to prevent it in the future. Telling me and others and yourself that "this happens in all societies; crimes against women have no race and no religion" is pointless. So what? What are we trying to establish with these kinds of affirmations? To prove to the world that those who're doing this aren't real Muslims, real Pashtuns? Good luck! To divert people's attention from the actual problem? But why? At the stake of ignoring justice?


We really are NOT safe, especially in our own society when our people are killing us off because we're doing something they don't have the balls, the guts, the mind to tolerate, let alone appreciate. And what is it that women who are constantly being killed do? Oh, I can't think of anything important ... other than making their presence known to the world and to their society, refusing to be pushed back into the backward thinking that the woman's only role is to remain inside her home cooking, cleaning, having kids, and submitting to her husband's sexual needs with a smile. Or else.

In a weird way, it's not just  "women" who are in danger in our society. It's a particular type of women: those who are actually working for peace, not just desiring it and hoping someone else will bring it. Because we have been leaving this responsibility to others for too long, and it has only exacerbated things.


In short, in our society, you (woman) are safe only and only if you submit to the degradation you are put through by your own people; as an individual, you become a danger to society only when you  realize your potential and want to do more than just be sexually available for your husband, obey your mother-in-law, and have children. (Note: I'm not against having kids! But that's not ALL women are capable of doing.) But this still doesn't mean you're completely safe if you submit to society: as long as one of us is unsafe, we are all unsafe. If the life of one us is taken, we should all be mourning and condemning the act and striving to prevent further such attacks. In fact, in such a society, it's not just the women that are unsafe, then; it's everyone, including men! How can any of us think this is not a problem? Can we really afford to turn a blind eye on crimes against women for any longer? Yesterday, it was Malalai Kakar; today, it's Farida Afridi ... who's next? There is a pattern, and trying to avoid being similar to these women won't help. Silence isn't the answer; not pursuing your dreams, not pursuing peace will not solve the problem.  In fact, the only thing more deplorable than the crime itself is our silence.

It's so disheartening. It almost makes you lose hope, but you can't afford to lose hope. No, it's not because people look up to you; it's not because you are the "light" of your people (don't ever fool yourself into thinking you are THE light of your people!); but it's because your society needs more OF you. You as an individual can't do much, but your society needs you collectively.

I know dismissing Farida's murder as a misogynistic act is almost shallow... but it is just that, isn't it? When will we stop hating women? When will we understand religion from a viewpoint that highly respects and appreciates individuals, including women, who work for peace, for a stable society--for people! In fact, doesn't Islam prioritize the safety and the well-being of others? In many cases, your own dealings with God come AFTER your dealings with other people! God tells us He can't forgive us until those whom we have wronged forgive us. How do--rather, how can--we justify the killing of others in the name of religion or culture? What kind of a God do we believe in that we think will forgive us--or that He doesn't see it as a sin? When will we stop selectively plucking off those among us who only want the best for us, even if their idea of what is "best" for us isn't identical to our own, even if the paths they take in trying to reach that goal isn't the same as ours? Ultimately, don't we all want peace? Don't we all want justice for everyone in our society regardless of gender, religion, origin, and other differences? Don't we all want to be respected and recognized as full human beings without being limited to just one role that our society has designated for us when we can be so much more, when we can be a part of the solution to the problems we're facing?


Also, note Farida's age--she was 25 years old. (Ghazala Javed was 24.) We often tell ourselves, "I haven't even lived!" when, really, we're all living. Do events like these have to happen for us to remember that we're all here for a reason, that we all have certain skills that enable us to do things a certain way that others may not be able to do for whatever reason? 


But let's ask ourselves why it is usually the young that are targeted in crimes like these. 25 years old. What all was she capable of doing? Everything. Anything. What all had she accomplished in such a short life? An unbelievable amount. The younger people are, the better targets they make because of the reason for which they are killed: the killer(s) cannot bear to see them continue their work, which they will continue to do as long as they have the stamina, the power, the skills, the time, the opportunity to do. And the younger people are, the more energetic, the more passionate they are. They are easily motivated, and they're constantly seeking inspiration and inspiring others. They are more bold, more adventurous--if something isn't made available to them, they'll make it available for themselves. And this is why they pose a greater "danger" to society (read: the killers of peace) than do older people.
 
Farida Afridi
Rest in peace, dear Farida Afridi. You may have passed away, but your spirit will continue to linger over our heads, reminding us that you are still alive. Thank you for helping to improve the lives of many, many girls and women, and thank you even more for inspiring those of us who need inspiration from people like you. May you be granted the eternal peace that you were working so hard for, that you gave up your life for. May your family be granted the patience to deal with your loss without letting it break them. May your fans and others who looked up to you, as well as those whom you have serviced, be blessed with resources to be inspired by your work and follow your lead. May our society give birth to millions of you. Aameen. I won't send curses upon the killer(s) because that won't do anyone any good; but I do pray for justice, both in this world and in the next. They may kill one of us, they may kill 50, they may kill thousands-- but they can't kill all. They'll have to quit one day, they'll have to one day realize that the fault lies in them and not in the women, they'll have to one day acknowledge their weakness, and that day will not arrive until more and more of us follow your lead. This is the only way we can help put an end to the madness of killing women who leave their houses, even if in a burqa/pardah/hijab, to ensure a stronger, more stable future for our society's children. 

One last point, directly especially to Pashtun girls and women: Farida Afridi was killed today because there aren't enough Pashtun women like her. As long as this is the case, women like her will never be safe--and as long as women like her are not safe, neither are you and me and other "ordinary" women nor men, with all of us wanting justice and love and peace but only few of us working to achieve it. The murders of such women should inspire and empower us, not serve as a reminder that we are unsafe so must not stand up, or that our society is just not ready for women activists.

The writer is PhD student in Islamic Studies with emphasis on Gender and Sexuality in Islamic law and blogs at 
http://orbala.blogspot.co.uk/
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