Women Of Balochistan:
A Rising Political Voice?
By Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee
The moment the provinces of North Western Frontier Province and Balochistan comes to the mind, one immediately thinks of pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda forces, rugged geographical terrain, religious fundamentalism, suppressive patriarchal society, which in some ways reflects total anarchy. If one thinks of visiting Balochistan or NWFP, even the Pakistani administrators themselves remain wary of providing permission to an outsider or a tourist.
Being clubbed with NWFP, which is infamous for the extremities that are meted out against the womenfolk by the ruling political parties like Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, one immediately deduces that the women of Balochistan suffer the same fate. Especially when the coalition provincial government of Balochistan has the same MMA in power, one wonders about the state women survive in the province.
However, there remains a significant difference of the state of women in Balochistan with that of the rest of the nation, as though suffering from acute poverty, underdevelopment, and illiteracy, the oppressed gender has been playing a significant social role for the last few decades.
Balochistan liberation movement has found strong support of the women folk. The Chairman of the Baloch Women Panel, Advocate Shaker Bibi Baloch, has made it clear that in the forthcoming election, there must be a clear option for ‘right to self determination’ as to enable Balochs their own future destiny. She has also mentioned about the thousands of Balochs that have been displaced and is missing in search of nationhood as well as better livelihood. She strongly protested against the ‘terrorist’ label that the Balochis have earned and blamed the entire unstable Pakistani situation on the Pakistani Army leadership.
Educational institutions remain to be principal agents of political socialization and awareness, and the first women’s university, the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta, remains to be a step forward for strengthening a portion of the Balochi tribal community who has been deprived of the fruits of modernisation and development. According to a World Bank Report, only 15 percent of women in Balochistan, the largest but least populated province of Pakistan, have attended school. Though the quality and standard of education for women remains to be very poor in the province, but there has been an initiation of improvement in that aspect.
Women like Rahila Durrani, who has even stood for the post of Nazim in the Balochi government mentioned in an interview to The News on Sunday that the women of Pakistan and Balochistan are fighting for a different form of battle that won’t be either recognised or accepted in the West. She considers that the amount of liberty that the women of Pakistan and the province enjoys and demands for must not harm the social fabric. She is totally against the quality of freedom that women enjoy in the West and finds it totally unsuitable for Pakistani and Balochi society. In the forthcoming elections, 10 women candidates have been nominated by different political parties to contest on three National Assembly seats reserved for women from Balochistan. Balochistan has been allocated three seats out of total 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly.
Even women of the tribal areas of Mastung district, which is characterised by its frequent droughts and poverty, through international financial aid, has started maintaining as well as owning poultry farms that has provided them with a significant source of steady revenue. The World Bank has even started girls’ educational institutes in the rural hamlets. The Government of Pakistan has also taken an initiative to enhance the position of women in the province, and had allocated Rs 100 million welfare package for the women of Balochistan. The Asian Development Bank has also allocated US$16 million to improve technical and vocational training in Balochistan especially for the women of the province.
The rise and empowerment of the women of Balochistan has undermined as well as challenged the denominator that usually characterises the position of women in a society. They remain to be extremely poor, illiterate and bound by traditional norms of a tribal society that remains to be patriarchal in nature, but they still play a influential role in determining the future of the province.
The Pakistani leadership, due to the strong anti-national sentiments nurtured by the Balochis has kept them away from most of the administrative and defence mechanism of the nation. The province remains to be significantly deprived of the economic and political privileges that is enjoyed by the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, but still with the assistance of its womenfolk, Balochistan remains to be a region where political, social and economic compulsions has paved the way for a unique empowerment of women, which remains unusual for the region of South Asia.
Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee is the Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Siliguri College, University of North Bengal, Darjeeling·