Swat Woman Of Courage Gets Sisters' Council To Speak Up


Tabassum Adnan wants women to stand up for their rights.

That's a dangerous message to send where she comes from -- Pakistan's Swat Valley. And that's the reason she was just awarded the U.S. Secretary Of State's International Women of Courage Award.

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RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal caught up with the 38-year-old mother of four upon her return from Washington, and spoke to her about her groundbreaking work and plans for the future.

She rose to prominence in Swat in 2013, when she broke with tradition by forming Pakistan's first all-women jirga, or tribal council.

Tradition held that membership in a jirga was reserved for male elders, who met to settle local disputes and grievances. Decisions were often made without the presence of women.

Her answer was to form the 25-member Khwendo Jirga, or the Sisters' Council.

"In our society, women are not allowed to participate in a jirga.," Adnan said on April 1. "So I challenged the set norms for my rights, for the rights of our women, and for the rights of every oppressed person."

Although the idea initially faced opposition, the Khwendo Jirga gained acceptance after it brought culprits to justice in a child-rape case in a Swat village in 2014.

"We have since resolved a number of cases and helped a number of people," Adnan said, noting that the council has successfully intervened in blood feuds calling for the exchange of women, the sale of girls into marriage, murder cases, and situations involving the trafficking of women.

The Khwendo Jirga also advocates women's access to education and health care, and supports their right to vote.

Adnan's own story is one of perseverance. She was a child bride, married off by her family at the age of 13. Adnan divorced her husband 20 years later after suffering two decades of domestic abuse.

She had approached male jirgas to seek justice for the violence she suffered, but was unsuccessful. But from that rejection was born her idea to create her own jirga.

-- Farangis Najibullah, based on an interview by RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent Niaz Khan