By Farooq Wani
In the past women all over the world were considered merely members of someone’s family, not as separate entities and Kashmir was no exception. Luckily subordination of women and their subjugation to male authority and control has reduced over the years as the fairer sex proved that they could do things as well as the men folk.
However, this discrimination has by no means ended and women continue to be victims of various forms of violence and intimidation by chauvinist men who take great care to protect their womenfolk but have no qualms in committing crimes against other women. The unfortunate part is that even today many men harbour a patriarchal mindset that legitimises the domination and suppression of womenfolk. The fallout of such depraved thinking is that most men consider women to be mere sex objects and find nothing wrong in using their muscle power and authority to prove that they are physically stronger and have a license for victimising womenfolk.
The violence directed specifically at women does the function of keeping women in a completely powerless and disadvantageous position. In past three decades Kashmir has witnessed unprecedented violence that has affected everyone, but it is the poor Kashmiri woman who is the worst sufferers as she is at the receiving end of all this mayhem and has to bear the worst emotional and mental trauma over the loss of near and dear ones.
Women in Kashmir may have traditionally remained in the background but they have always exercised immense influence within their respective families. As mothers, sisters and wives women are indisputably the best teachers, friends and guides who can instil rich cultural values such as pluralism, tolerance and compassion in both children and adults. This is why Kashmiri women need more empowerment.
Some people may ask as to why we talk about women empowerment all the times and why not about men empowerment? Others may argue that since women make almost 50% of the total population of the world they are not in minority and because they have the same mental abilities as men, so why give them special treatment on the empowerment issue. To understand this better we must first clear our minds on what does women empowerment mean. In simple terms it means giving women the inherent power to decide about their own lives, provide them the basic human rights and giving them requisite facilities to inculcate such abilities that they are able to find their rightful place in the society. As per the United Nations Development Fund for women (UNIFEM), Kashmiri women have always been an active component of the society. Much of their social, educational and professional growth has seen a steady increase over the years; most of it can also be attributed to the benign patriarchal norms of the Kashmiri society.
To understand the multilayered contours of the role of women towards peace building especially in the context of a violence-torn place like Kashmir let’s see how our women folk are faring in diverse fields. In Kashmir women are making their presence felt in every field be it sports, education, music or even Bollywood. Kashmiri girls, in particular, have stood out, earning laurals for the state by their excellent performance in various sporting accomplishments. It is now quite a common sight in the valley to see girls practicing sports vigorously.
Bilquis Mir, an international coach for Water Sports who hails from the downtown area of Srinagar said, “A strong woman is not one who does not cry, a strong woman is the one who cries, fights and gets up again”. She believes that Kashmiri girls have a tremendous potential to compete in whatever field they are put their mind to, because it is the youth that mainly bears the brunt of violence and this makes them mentally very much stronger.
Jabeena Akhter, who won a bronze for the country in April this year in the martial art of Wushu shared an incident that reveals the challenges still present. While training for her event, she had to walk a very long distance to the training facility everyday because due to the unrest there was no transport plying on roads. Jabeena took the arduous daily routine of a long walk to the training facility, the grueling work out there and the tiresome journey back home in the right spirit and the mental resilience she acquired became the game-winner!
23-year-old Sheikh Sajida, senior rugby player, recalls the hardships that she faced in the morning practice session during the 2016 unrest. “I used to go to polo ground which is situated in the heart of the city, Lal chowk and I could hardly see any civilian on the streets,” she recalls. However, Sajida didn’t let the tension of being alone on the road during volatile times de-motivate her.
There is another example of Kashmiri girl Zaira Waseem who not only made Kashmir but the entire country proud by her excellent performance that stood out even when she shared the screen with legendary Bollywood actor Amir Khan.
What is most commendable is that even in a patriarchal society like Kashmir women are getting opportunities to realise their dreams. By complementing talent with hard work the wrongly termed ‘weaker sex’ in Kashmir has been able to reach the pinnacle of success and get recognised at national and international levels.
It is universally accepted that gender equality is a stronger indicator and a key promoter of a state’s peacefulness. We still have a long way to go in fully unleashing the potential and power of women in building and sustaining peace. However this should not demoralise us and our elders must encourage and let women play an equally prominent role in peace-building can go long way in making Kashmir a peaceful place. If women are the worst effected by violence, then it becomes our solemn responsibility to encourage them to work for sustainable peace in Kashmir so that the tears in their eyes are replaced by smiles on their faces.
*Farooq Wani is a Kashmir-based Senior journalist and political analyst