Women at the forefront of the peacebuilding process

A small grant project in Maina village in Malakand, Pakistan, not only resolved a long-standing community conflict but also involved women in the peacebuilding process for the first time in the village. The project demonstrates the importance and ability of real community participation, especially of women in conservative rural areas, to promote peacebuilding.

The need to challenge traditional female roles

Malakand is one of seven districts in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP), Pakistan. Like in most other areas of KP, the role of women, particularly in rural areas, is limited to the four walls of the house where they spend most of their time doing housework, caring for the children and collecting wood and water for domestic use.

Throughout Pakistan, women have traditionally faced both legal and cultural barriers to their participation in local and national decision-making. However, in recent years some progress has been made that challenges this paradigm, bringing women’s rights and gender equality into the dialogue. With this in mind, Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP) and Saferworld were keen to bring rural women to the forefront of peacebuilding discussions in their local communities, enabling their voices to be heard when conflicts that affected their own lives were being resolved.

Cause of the conflict

One such local conflict took place in Maina village, around a path that was not only the most common travel route for local villagers, but was also the easiest route for communities to collect wood for fuel.

The path was unpaved and often blocked due to heavy landslides in the rainy season. When villagers used alternate routes, such as cultivated land, they would be blamed for damaging the crops – causing tension between farmers and travellers. The cultivated land belonged to three families from different tribes, so the issue became a conflict among three tribes – Ghazi Khel, Usman Khel and Brazi Khel – rather than individuals.

Mediation by community elders in the past had brought some respite, however eventually the landowners blocked the path, leaving travelling through the fields as the only alternative.

Small grant provision and initial discussions

A small grant of PKR 452,000 (£2,900) was provided by CAMP to civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malakand, who had been trained in conflict analysis, mediation and dialogue, advocacy, the role of jirga, and community-driven initiatives for peace. This cluster of CSOs was led by the Malakand Welfare Society (MWS) and supported by Sikandar Welfare Organisation (SWO) and Women Awareness and Development Society (WADS). Together they used the small grant to resolve the conflict in Maina village and contribute to local peace efforts.

During consultations between the community and the CSOs, the community proposed that the passageway be paved and the blocks removed. It was clear that the issue was a priority for the community, both men and women, so the CSOs planned to resolve the conflict through facilitating dialogue, holding a peace jirga (mediation) and paving the passageway so it would be blocked less often in the rainy season and people would have less need to walk across cultivated land.

Role of women in the dialogue and raising community awareness

Since women were an important stakeholder in the project (half the 2,200 beneficiaries were women), the CSOs worked hard to involve the female community in planning and implementing the project. Despite the challenge of involving women in public gatherings in a rural area, women became part of the Community Action Group (CAG) for the project as well as of the jirga; with 27% and 32% representation respectively. 

Women who were part of the CAG and jirga provided support and organised awareness and sensitisation campaigns on the importance of peace for other women in the village. The female teachers involved in the project also raised awareness among their students about the importance of peace. Six women also received training on peacebuilding so that they could be a part of future efforts to resolve conflict at family and community levels. The neutral location for this training, a local government school, was chosen specifically because it was more accessible for women, and a place where they would feel comfortable.

It was unusual for women to be part of village-level consultations, especially in such a conservative rural area, but the experience was well received. According to Rahman Ghani, a beneficiary from this project, “[the] initiative was much needed… the training that I along with other members of the community, including women, got under this project will help in resolving future conflicts through involvement of all members of the community” (discussion with Rahman Ghani during CAMP team’s monitoring visit to the project site, 3 December 2014).

At the end of the project the path was paved with support from the small grant as well as a contribution from the community. The project resolved a long-standing community conflict through real community participation, involving women in the peacebuilding process for the first time in the village.

Saferworld and local partner CAMP's project ‘Promoting Participatory Approaches to Peacebuilding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ started in January 2012, and is funded by the European Union Delegation to Pakistan under its Instrument for Stability component.

Find out more about Saferworld's work in Pakistan.