GHAG; An Anti-Feminist Pashtun Tradition

Break the Bias by awareness rising on evil tradition of Ghag on this International Women’s Day

By Yusra Waheed

The Patriarchal and ancient custom of “Ghag” is still haunting the Pakhtun women in parts of KP-Pakistan and the tribal belt of Pakistan. “Ghag” which means “to declare or announce” is a proclamation of ownership of a woman. It is an outlawed custom where women are forced to marry men without their consent or even their guardian’s – or in some cases the man doesn’t even marry the woman. The oppressing culture of ghag entitle men to consider any woman he likes as a property leading to total objectification and dehumanisation of women.

Ghag is done in many ways. Most commonly, a man goes with weapon to the girl’s territory or to the doorstep and shoots in the air with the declaration that “the girl is mine” and threatens the rest of the community that anyone who tries to approach her will result in violence and bloodshed. Sometimes, the man simply sends a deliverer to the woman’s house to declare ghag. Thus, depriving women of their basic rights.

Ghag is also used to take revenge if the two families have some sort of enmity. The clashes can be due to property, business or domestic issue. At times, the man doesn’t even marry the girl; leaving her in a state where she cannot marry anyone for the rest of her life. The girl has to live with the label “not approachable”- which is why since the start of 2016 around 20 women have reportedly committed suicide because of this brutal custom, according to media reports.

A 28 years-old Pashtun girl from district Charsada,Saboohi Rafique says, “Ghag and other anti-feminist traditions are still practiced in our society and it is not surpersing that our girls subjugate to such horrible traditional practices just to keep the honour of the family protected. The honour in our society starts with women and ends on them. Men are using women for their honour and it is unjustified. “

She added, ” Young Pashtun girls although are stronger to stand for their rights. Yet, they still can not come out of the fears which are embedded in them since their childhood. Girls are raised to obey men, to live lives for men and end lives for them too. Women end their needs, desires and even life for men just to be entitled as ‘sacrificing women’, which is absurd.”

Although, with education and growing awareness, the Pakhtun society has somehow came out of this inhuman culture. There are still some places in KP specifically the tribal districts where this custom is still prevailing- the custom began in South Waziristan and spread to other tribal areas. Story like Pio Muhammad and his daughters who turns to media and raised voice against this brutal culture is truly exemplary.

Pio, a fifty years old man hailing from district Hangu, KP. Pio’s sister was married to his wife’s brother. Unfortunately, there marriage didn’t last long. According to Pio, his sister got divorced after 15 years of marriage and he was being forced by his brothers to divorce his wife to take vengeance. However, Pio refused to divorce his wife. His brothers used their sons and declared ghag on Pio’s daughters. He filed a case at Peshawar Peshawar High court against his brothers. He fought courageously for his daughters against this brutal custom.

The recent Pakistani drama “Sang-e-Mah sheds light on the same social issue. The drama revolves around the same theme”. Even though some people have criticised the concept for not being practiced in today’s time, others still have seen real life stories of this inhuman custom that haven’t made its way to mainstream media. The horrible tradition is still lurking on the lives of Pashtun women and drama industry is bringing much awareness on this social evil which is robbing women from their basic rights. It is crucial to be aware of such regressive customs that is hindering the society to grow.

A Housewife Chand Bibi from Peshawar, Pakistan said, “These dramas must be shown to increase awareness about the traditions which are dangerous for women and the society itself. Although the Govt has policies and Laws against such traditions, yet on ground still such practices are on-going. I hope one day, women will be free to live peacefully.”

Khyper Pakhtunkhwa Government had passed a bill Elimination of custom of Ghag in 2013 that declared the practice as unlawful, punishable with imprisonment up to 7 years. Even when legislation is present for the sufferers, most of the women find it hard to fight against this patriarchal oppression and choose to remain silent because of the stigma. And others, due to lack of awareness and education are not even aware of the existing laws. There are few cases that came out to the mainstream media, there are hundreds of thousands of victims who are suffering in silence.

We need strict laws to prevent unethical, immoral and dehumanising customs. Of course, there are such practices that are happening in other parts of the country as well. To name a few, Swara, Vani, Zhagh are some examples- where women are forced to spend their lives with men they did not choose.

Patriarchy is universal and there are many crimes that are done under the guise of traditions and customs or sometimes out of chauvinism- women do not want matriarchy they want basic human rights. The particular form patriarchy embedded in Pashtun society and cultural code is downright oppressive. The women of Tribal areas have a long way to go before men and women are treated as equal citizens of the society and the world.

Yusra Waheed

Peshawar-based 27 years old Yusra Waheed holds Master’s degree in English and Applied Linguistics and is a Magazine article writer for Peshawar Today.

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