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Housewife becomes first female candidate in Pakistani tribal region

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pakistani housewife, 38-year-old Badam Zari has filed her candidacy for parliament in Khar, capital of the fiercely conservative Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur. She is the very first woman from the restive region to run for office.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The women in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have faced many challenges because of unnecessary restrictions on them and rigid tribal traditions," Zari said in a telephone interview. "I want to give voice to our voiceless women."

She has her work cut out for her in the elections this coming May 11. Not only is she up against 44 other candidates, Bajaur is also home to militants who have waged war against state institutions, such as schools for girls and women.

Pakistan's army launched a massive operation to evict militants from the area in 2008. Pakistani forces have managed to establish an uneasy peace in Bajaur, but problems facing women have not disappeared. The nation remains at the bottom of world maternal mortality and women's literacy rankings.

Zari said she is running for office to do something about horrible conditions in her homeland. Pakistani troops say they want to rebuild Waziristan, a corner of Pakistan that has become a hotbed of military activity, with financial help from the U.S. and others. Officials insist that U.S. drone strikes on the area must end.

"Women in Pakistan in general, and those living in the remote tribal areas in particular, have been neglected," Zari said. Married to a school principal, she has no children.

The candidate added that past parliamentarians had served their own interests and not those of the tribal population as a whole. She wants to stamp out endemic corruption and boost services, such as health care and schools.

It must be noted that while she is a strong supporter of women's education, Zari herself has only completed the fifth grade.

 "I was so happy today when I heard on local FM radio that a woman would contest election," fellow Bajaur resident Dil Faraz Khan said. "This woman would be far better than those corrupt politicians."

Although some of her fellow tribesmen welcomed Zari's move, Sahibzada Shah Jehan argued that to campaign for office ran counter to tribal traditions.

"After Malala Yousafzai, most of the women are trying to do something that could help them get popularity across the world," he said, referring to the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by militants for promoting girls' education. "But they ignore that their action could jeopardize their lives." 

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