A lone woman administrator in an almost exclusively male domain, Nafisa Shah has set new standards for integrity and probity in her efforts to restore people’s faith in the system.
Only two of Pakistan’s 101 district mayors are women, and Nafisa Shah (born 1968) is one of them. A distinguished woman administrator in an almost exclusively male domain, Nafisa has set new standards for integrity in her conflict-torn and crime-ridden district. She leads from the front in dealing with injustices against women and the poor, and has made her district a model of community-supported development.
Nafisa Shah was in the midst of a thesis on honor and violence at Oxford University when she made her entry into politics. In 2001, she had traveled from Oxford to her hometown in Upper Sindh to carry out field research when her politically active family drafted her into an electoral battle. The 37-year-old, put up as a candidate in a local election, ended up as district mayor of Khairpur in Upper Sindhone of two women in Pakistan to hold such a post. Nafisa’s task was to maintain law and order, and run the district government. Khairpur, with 1.7 million people spread over 16,000 square kilometers of semiarid land, has an annual homicide rate of more than 300. Poverty levels are higher than the national average, and literacy is as low as 13 per cent among rural women. Few people expected Nafisa to last the course, but she is setting an example of personal honesty and integrity in an environment where both have long been discarded. In a district where justice is traded in government offices, Nafisa tries to deliver real justice. She has doggedly pursued murder cases to their conclusion, despite police impediments and has stood up to land-grabbers, encouraging the formation of hundreds of community organizations working on low-cost development projects through government grants. Nafisa started out as a journalist. Reporting for the liberal, progressive magazine, Newsline, she wrote on violence against women, immigrants, refugees, and poor and underrepresented communities. The first detailed expose on “honor killings” in Upper Sindh was hers, for which she won the All Pakistan Newspaper Society Award in 1995. She was also given a United Nations Environment Programme youth award for reporting on environmental degradation, and the Bagby scholarship to Oxford University, where she researched honor killings. Now, as part of her job, she deals with them all the time.
South Asia | Pakistan