Pakistan widows, 'second' wives flee fighting but are denied aid

Fri Aug 1, 2014 6:42am EDT
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By Katharine Houreld and Saud Mehsud

BANNU Pakistan (Reuters) - Thousands of women displaced by fighting in Pakistan are struggling to get food and other aid because they lack identity cards and conservative Muslim elders have forbidden them from going to distribution centers.

The women are among nearly a million people who registered for aid after the army began an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan, a mountainous region on the Afghan border.

The army ordered most civilians to leave before the offensive began in June. Many ended up in Bannu, a small city on the main road out of the semi-autonomous tribal region.

No census has been conducted in North Waziristan for years, so no one knows the true scale of the problem. Government figures, however, show almost three-quarters of those seeking aid are women and children.

There's plenty of food to go around, with the World Food Program handing out nearly 5,000 tonnes and many other aid groups active.

But women face two problems: the lack of identity cards and an edict from elders of their Pashtun tribes forbidding them from going out to get aid. Conservative tribal traditions demand women stay at home and men fetch the food.

The same traditions prevent many women from getting identity cards. Some families also find the idea of a woman being photographed or fingerprinted for cards highly intrusive, even though the national identity agency runs women-only centers. Others simply lived in areas too remote to get cards.

For now, women and children without male relatives are largely dependent on handouts from neighbors who are themselves dependent on aid. Even women who have husbands may face problems, since many men have multiple wives depending on them.   Continued...

An internally displaced woman walks outside a food distribution centre set up in a sports stadium in Bannu, in northwest Pakistan July 25, 2014. REUTERS/Caren Firouz