Understanding women's plight

International Women’s Day is just a few days away. This day (March 8), on one hand, provides an opportunity to recognize the achievements of women and their overall contribution to society and on the other, it is an opportunity to focus on those areas of women’s lives where more can be done so that they are empowered to take greater financial, political and physical control of their lives.

Let us take an overview of status of women in Kashmir, especially in the last three decades of turmoil, and what exactly needs to be done to power them with empowerment. Women being the most vulnerable, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by the turmoil in Kashmir.

Here in J&K women’s empowerment needs a tailor-made approach. The first thing while working on measures to empower women in this strife-ridden geographically remote region is to understand that initiatives taken for women’s empowerment in other parts of the country will not necessarily prove successful here. Here, the problems confronting women folk are totally different than rest of the country.

There is need to focus on those areas of women’s lives where more can be done so that they are empowered to take greater financial, political and physical control of their lives. Before tailoring solutions to help women to achieve empowerment in these areas, one has to understand her position/situation in which she has been placed since 1988 when armed insurgency began here. It’s she who became the direct victim of all sorts of violence which took place and is currently taking place. Precisely, the impact of the armed conflict has rendered their emotional strength into weakness and has engulfed them into a constant state of depression. Frankly speaking, compensation, in whatever form is very low in comparison to the psychological and economic costs suffered by them during all these years of turmoil.

Having deeper attachment with their families, Kashmiri womenfolk silently continue to bear the brunt of violence directly as well as indirectly while caught in the twilight of Kashmir issue. Whether a family member got killed or disappeared, it has been a continuous trauma for Kashmiri women to mourn or yearn for such incidents. Cases are in abundance where many such women are living with their painful memories and now toil hard to feed their family. And there are instances where they were forced to assume the headship, only to carry on with the burden of their families, mostly comprising of orphans.

One of the aftermaths of this turmoil has also been the ever-increasing number of widows. These widows are witnessing worst socio-economic conditions as their only bread-earners have been either killed or left brutally maimed or have mysteriously disappeared during the course of the bloody violence. Majority of the widows in the state are living a miserable life as the government and other organizations have not paid adequate attention to their problems. With the result, their problems have compounded alarmingly.

Among the most frustrated are the half widows. Until their husbands are proved dead, these women cannot inherit their property or come under the government’s compensation policy, if any. Often these half widows are thrown out of their homes, leaving them to fend for themselves in a vulnerable environment around them.

While facing the brunt of the turmoil, stress related disorders have been taking toll of women. More than 5000 patients per year, majority of them women, visit doctors for psychiatric diseases and worst part is that most of the victims don’t have financial resources to undergo treatment.

Precisely, women here always bear the brunt of any disaster, whether natural, social or political. It is they who have to suffer the most and at the same time keep their homes intact by gathering confidence and strength. So, what we need today is that Kashmiri women should be empowered. When we talk of their empowerment, we need to do their segmentation based on their profile andaccordingly tailor empowerment solutions.

For example, the skillful craftsmanship of Kashmiri artists has made Kashmiri handicrafts as prized possession over the years and has captured the hearts of people across the globe. Among the army of these skillful artisans, women constitute a substantial number who are well trained in the arts and crafts and contribute to its glory in a significant way. Here the women segment of artisans in the sector are lacking resources to organize their trade in a professional way. Being unorganized and left to the mercy of middlemen in the trade, they are forced to live in abject poverty.

A survey should be conducted to map these women artisans and segregated according to their specialties in the arts and crafts. They should be grouped in clusters through self-help groups. Special finance schemes on the pattern of artisan credit card should be introduced for them. The scheme should be women exclusive and should contain a scope of handholding them after they avail the finance facility.

Special health insurance scheme should also be tailored for them. Here prime minister’s Bima Yojana can be clubbed with the financial package.

In succinct, the women who have been ruined by the circumstances created during all these years of the turmoil should be identified, rehabilitated and provided all amenities of life. Some initiatives that can be taken to empower these women can be:

–           A financial aid scheme should be devised to support women who have been rendered widow or half widow during the turmoil and are struggling on financial front to run their domestic affairs. The scheme should be on the pattern of a family pension to be paid monthly.

–           There should be mainstreaming to the distribution of financial resources in equal and required manner at the official level. We are living in a system which is plagued in many ways against women and girl. Statistics reveal that child gender ratio at the moment is less than 900 and continues to decline alarmingly. Maternal mortality is higher than 200. The most worrying factor is the alarming increase of crimes against women, which is over 30 percent in the past few years. This entire plight against women summed up ignites urgent need of an honest effort to correct this through financial outlays backed by legislation. What I mean to say is to go for gender budgeting.

–           Gender budgeting is considered a perfect route to spot needs and priorities of women, especially those who are poor. It leads to examination of existing policies, programmes and schemes to determine whether or not they meet these priority needs. It simultaneously helps in corrective reprioritization of budgetary allocations so that desired outcomes are attained.

–           Instances of girl child being deprived of education in the backdrop of poor economic background is very high in rural belts and this has been main cause of child labour in these areas. Make education free of cost for girl students in all the government run educational institutions upto the higher secondary level. Fund the education expenses of girl students of government run educational institutions for professional courses after 12th class on merit basis.

–           Establish a chain of women police stations which should be run by women police. Having specific outlays for curbing violence against women and girls is need of the hour. Over a period of time, we have witnessed graph of violence against women going up and the victims having very little means to get protection and justice. So establish a chain of women police stations which should be run only by women police. This would help to curb crime against women and at the same time would help the victims to get speedy justice.

–           Career counseling centers in very district should be established exclusive for girls/women and no fee should be charged.

–           As stated above, there is a huge number of violence affected women who are suffering from mental illness. They have no financial support to fall back upon. Let such cases be identified through a survey and provided medical aid/ treatment free of cost.

–           A government backed marriage bureau has a huge scope here. This bureau can facilitate mass marriages of girls whose parents have no means to fall back upon for marriage of their daughters.

To conclude, let government on the eve of International Women’s day roll out certain welfare initiatives for the Kashmiri women who have been rendered helpless during the last 30 years of turmoil. Now is the time to do away with cosmetic empowerment programmes.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)