Clad in a veil, hiding her identity from people who pass by but confident in her own skin, Gul Bano* walked three miles on a scorching Tuesday afternoon to attend a community legal awareness session in Bado Khel, a village of Tehsil Haleem Zai, District Mohmand of the Merged Areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
For people outside her region, this may not be remarkable but a woman leaving home to learn about legal rights in the Merged Areas of KP is no ordinary feat. Until 2018 and the merger of the (erstwhile) Federally Administered Tribal Areas with the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, District Mohmand was an agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which was administered through colonial-era laws.
Everyday lives of women were and still are deeply constrained by traditional tribal values that undermine their rights. For years, women in the Merged Areas have been unaware of their rights and thus fail to recognize violations. Bano* may have grown in these circumstances, but she sees a better future for herself and the many women around her now.
The legal awareness session Bano* and many other women and men in Mohmand District, Khyber, Bajaur and North and South Waziristan are attending are part of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan’s efforts under its Amn-o-Insaf Programme. The Amn-o-Insaf (Peace and Justice) Programme endeavors to strengthen both supply and demand sides of the rule of law and justice system. UNDP has been working in close collaboration with the government, rule of law and justice institutions to improve delivery of services to people, particularly women and other marginalized communities. Strengthening institutional capacity of the criminal justice actors like police, prosecution and courts is a key priority area of the Programme.
Alongside these efforts, UNDP is also creating legal awareness and enabling women like Bano* understand their legal rights and recognize violations. “I’ve been able to understand the problems I’m facing and find a solution for it after attending the legal awareness session hosted by UNDP. I also see so many people around me struggling without knowing that there can be an end to their misery by seeking legal help. I plan to share my learnings with them, so they are able to find solutions and address their challenges too”, shared Bano* after attending the session.
People like her a testament to the fact that, although, it may take years to bring prosperity and development to the region, the resilient people of the Merged Areas are determined to educate themselves and bring a change. They are constantly looking out for innovative ways to learn about their legal rights by attending legal awareness sessions in their communities and sharing those learnings with others.
When restrictions were imposed on larger gatherings due to Covid-19, UNDP tailored smaller sessions, with ten participants at a time, across the Merged Areas, where participants are appraised on the precautions and COVID -19 SOPs particularly on wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing. The seating arrangement at these legal awareness sessions is planned to maintain standards of social distancing.
These sessions not only make participants learn about their legal rights and laws that protect them but also about COVID-19 SOPs and protection that they take home and share with their families and children.