Farida Afridi, aged 25, was shot dead by two men on motorcycles on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 around 6:30 AM when she left her house in Tehsil Jamrud Ghundi Kali to go to her office in Hayatabad.
As the Chief Executive of the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA), Farida was recognized as a fierce defender of women’s rights. SAWERA is a women-led, grass-roots NGO dedicated to empowering women and girls in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, where due to tribal customs and traditions, women remain mostly restricted and unable to achieve their potential. Farida and her sister Noorzia were among the groups of women who created SAWERA in 2004.
NGO members and activists are a prime target in FATA. Threats to their lives are common as they are criticized for “promoting a western agenda”. Since FATA is not bound by Pakistani laws, people working in the region do not have the rights guaranteed to Pakistani citizens by the Constitution, and are therefore, easier targets for extremist groups. As a result from her dedicated work, Farida had been receiving threats. However, no group claimed responsibility for the attack.
In 2013 the SAWERA offices were bombed, causing extensive damage to the infrastructure of the office building and the organisation’s technical equipment. The staff at SAWERA continue to receive threatening telephone calls demanding that they cease their work but, despite the risks, they continue to work on issues pertaining to women’s rights in one of the most traditional and culturally sensitive regions in Pakistan.
On Friday 7 March 2014, actor and founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization Sean Penn presented the 2014 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk to the Society for Appraisal & Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA).
SAWERA was selected from a total of 135 nominees from 56 countries on the basis of the NGO’s exceptional courage in defending the rights of women and girls in a region where groups working on these issues face extreme risks.
Noorzia Afridi and Sami Ullah of SAWERA were in Dublin to accept the award on behalf of the NGO. Noorzia Afridi thanked Front Line Defenders and her colleagues, “whose leadership and support contribute wonderfully to our journey towards human rights protection.”
“My deepest loyalty will always be to my other comrades in SAWERA, and having been nominated for this Award is a recognition of their achievement. I recognise we have all suffered greatly but together we have been able to work for the benefit of humanity with the ongoing and effective support of Front Line Defenders and other associations. – Noorzia Afridi, SAWERA