Tabassum Adnan was born in 1977 and grew up in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. She was a child bride at 13, mother of four and a victim of domestic violence, when she divorced her husband of 20 years. Finding herself homeless and without means of support, Adnan attended a women's empowerment program run by a local aid group. It inspired her to work to change women's ability to participate in decision-making processes. Initially she approached the male-only, main Swat Aman Jirga, but was rejected. Jirgas are traditional informal judicial councils which enforce qisas, retribution laws, and though not intended to replace formal judicial systems or police procedures, decisions of the elders are socially respected and do often impact the judiciary.
In May 2013, Adnan started her own jirga, the first run by women in the country.