Displaced from their homes, steeped in one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, without enough food, money or shelter, without the very basic utilities that can even marginally dignify a life, and the tribal elders of displaced North Waziristan tribes in Bannu thought this the right time to distribute a pamphlet restricting women from going to ration points. In some ways, this is not surprising at all. At this time, thrown into entirely unfamiliar circumstances, the communities will perhaps need to feel more culturally aligned than ever. They are not used to this place, to these customs, to this language or the different sensibilities of these people, and with women as the ever distinctive “symbols” of their own culture, they will throw their weight behind restrictive practices. That is how they might cling to the ways they left behind before the war. The pamphlet orders a complete ban on women attempting to retrieve food supplies, labelling the practice “humiliating” for the men of the family. Furthermore, punishments will be meted out to men from whose families women violate the ban. Never mind that at a time of war or crisis, women have historically abandoned traditional roles to partake in the many facets of warfare. Never mind that at this time, every family member needs to take on an active role to ensure that their children are fed and looked after. Banning women from travelling to ration points essentially means banning hundreds of thousands of people from helping in the upkeep of families.

The state must take some kind of balanced stand, wherein the real grievances (with regards to the security of women) are addressed. The country over, at airports and government offices, there are separate lines for women. That is just how cultural norms operate; and so the courtesy should be extended to the tribes of North Waziristan, but without conceding legal ground. Agreed, KPK province is itself a territory governed by strict cultural laws, but there is no law against the movement of unchaperoned women. A parallel legal system cannot be running at the IDP camp in Bannu, hindering movement and the comfort of already devastated communities. The issue of displaced persons is here to stay for a significant period of time, and the state’s writ must govern the legal principles by which this community, almost a million strong, will live by.