June 30, 2023
By Jamaima Afridi
“We have been deprived of our rights for a long time, both by the government and within our homes. And because tribal men have historically denied women inheritance rights, this campaign is expected to draw an intense reaction,” says Khkula Afridi, a village councilor (VC) from Landi Kotal, after the postponement of the awareness session on the inheritance rights of women due to objections from local elders.
Afridi explains that VCs and other women from various parts of Khyber District were invited to a jirga hall in Jamrud on June 5, with the aim of guiding them on how to approach open courts with concerns of inheritance and other rights. The event was eventually called off after some elders said it ‘dishonored’ them, though organizers rescheduled the meeting which was now to be held at Peshawar’s Qayyum Stadium. That too had to be postponed due to security issues.
“We women are completely aware of our rights now, we won’t back down,” she asserts. “We will fight for our rights, not just for ourselves but also for future generations.”
Hamid Buneray, Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Khyber, says that following the merger of the tribal districts, its people find it difficult to understand and adjust to provincial and federal laws, including those pertaining to inheritance rights. Therefore, there may be some initial resistance to efforts to implement laws that may appear to oppose established norms.
“The recent event intended to inform women about their inheritance rights and other legal issues faced resistance due to misconceptions that it contradicted cultural norms and honor. As a result, we believe we must first educate the public about the rights that women are granted in Islam,” he explains. “Our next step is to engage with religious scholars and community elders to create awareness at the grassroots level, informing people about the available forums that can assist them, and eradicating any misconceptions.”
A Jamrud resident named Salahuddin Malik Kukikhel claims that, in contrast to modern norms, tribal women have an abundance of rights and are held in the highest regard by their fellow tribal members. He considers the women’s rights program inappropriate and reiterated that the community firmly rejects the concept of its women entering the open court since their honour is of the utmost importance.
“If such a gathering is planned again, it will be entirely the women’s fault if anyone is harmed or has their property destroyed,” he professed. “Since the merger, we have not been granted any rights whatsoever. The government’s actions degrade our culture and honor. We, however, will never permit this to happen.”
Latif Afridi, another elder from Khyber District, expresses his opinion that NGOs pushing women forward is not a favourable approach and that any transgression of the norms of tribal communities will be met with fierce resistance. He says that holding an open court specifically for women in tribal communities is improper.
WOMEN’S INHERITANCE RIGHTS EXPLAINED
Mehwish Kakakhel, a lawyer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, explains the existence of specific inheritance laws and regulations applicable to women in KP, including the KP Endorsement of Women Property Rights Act 2019 and the KP Letter of Administration and Succession Act 2021. Due to a revision in the Succession Act, women can now visit NADRA offices to claim their inheritance, providing the property being claimed is disputed. In addition, women can file complaints with the Ombudsperson to enforce their inheritance rights within 60 days under the KP Enforcement of Women Property Rights Act 2019.
Kakakhel further provides that a woman’s inheritance rights depend on her marital status. Women who are married, divorced, or widowed all have different inheritance rights. In general, women receive less than men, and the specifics vary depending on the situation and how Islamic law is interpreted.
When inheriting from the same father, women are only entitled to half of the amount that is available to men under Islamic law. If she has children, a widow receives one-eighth of the inheritance; if she is childless, she receives one-fourth or a quarter of the inheritance. Women who have divorced can inherit property from their deceased son, mother, and father.
Notably, there are particular difficulties for women in newly-merged districts (NMDs). They lack inheritance rights as they are often not registered with NADRA. They also frequently marry men who live far away, making it challenging for them to return and get their rightful part. Furthermore, cultural norms and inadequate educational opportunities prevent women from exercising their inherited rights.
TRIBAL WOMEN CONTINUE TO PURSUE THEIR RIGHTS
Minhaj from Loye Shalman, Khyber District, is the first tribal woman to pursue inheritance rights in her father’s property through the court. Minhaj’s lawyer, Sajid Shinwari, said that her brothers denied her a share in the property on the grounds that the land was not inherited but rather purchased. However, Minhaj asserts that it is hereditary property. The property’s status as an inherited or purchased asset will now be decided by the court.
KP Ombudsperson, Rukhshanda Naz, notes that inheritance rules are also extended to merged districts, just like other laws have been. Previously, women’s property rights were not acknowledged, particularly in the merged districts, but now things are changing as more women are speaking up.
She provides an example where 20 females from Khyber have challenged both the government and their families regarding the lack of compensation for acquired land by the government. Naz adds that 680 of the total cases in KP were related to inheritance, with 21 of those cases involving women in the tribal regions.
Mahal Bibi, a 56-year-old woman from Shah Kas in Khyber District, has also filed a suit to assert her property rights.
“I have made a complaint to get my due right from both government and elders from land which has been acquired by the government, and these rights are protected by Islam and the constitution,”
she says, adding that her decision to pursue this case prompted outrage from local elders who believe it is against their culture and honour. “The lawsuits are still pending before the court, and I am still holding out hope that we will get our just inheritance. Even with the strong opposition, we at least expect to receive our due rights.”
DENIAL OF WOMEN’S PROPERTY RIGHTS
According to Buneray, patriarchal systems are the main cause of the many issues that plague not only Khyber but the entire tribal belt. When women desire to exercise their rights but are denied by their elders and then seek legal assistance, the acceptability of such actions becomes a significant issue. Due to the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which have caused deprivation for decades, this problem is particularly acute for women in merged districts.
Additionally, women frequently encounter major financial challenges when they turn to the legal system to protect their rights. The majority of the population in merged districts is poor, and women typically depend on men for financial support. When women exercise their rights, they also experience animosity from their own brothers, fathers, or other family members, which affects relations within the family.
Naz also highlights some difficulties that came up during this procedure.
“Some families argue that they should not be required to provide women property rights when no one else in their community does. Second, the time constraints imposed for resolving these concerns frequently go beyond what government departments can handle,”
she explained. “169 cases have been referred to the Peshawar Deputy Commission alone, and other departments are experiencing a similar problem.”
Moreover, most police officers are not even aware that the Ombudsperson’s office even exists.
“One Station House Officer in Peshawar even claimed they were unaware of such a department and refused to help out as a result. There is a big problem with the government departments’ ignorance and denial,” she says. “Most departments do not prioritize women’s cases or ensure timely proceedings due to their large workloads. These are some of the challenges we face while dealing with women’s property rights.”
HOW CAN THIS ISSUE BE TACKLED
Kakakhel emphasizes that by understanding the legal framework and taking appropriate legal action when necessary, women in Pakistan, particularly in NMDs, can fight for and uphold their inheritance rights. Women now have the right to inherit due to the Protection of Women’s Property Rights Act, which was passed in 2019. It is essential that women are aware of this rule and actively work to have it enforced.
These measures may involve working with women’s groups and social organizations to promote gender equality and the protection of women’s rights, or obtaining legal advice or support from legal aid organizations to file legal claims. Women in Pakistan can make sure that their inheritance rights are preserved and honoured by being knowledgeable and proactive.