The quest of women empowerment & gender equality in Kashmir

Women empowerment and gender equality isn’t about making the women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives their strength.

Women empowerment and gender equality are the most important constituents in the path of social and economic development of any region, state or nation. The promotion of women empowerment and gender equality is one of the “Millennium Development Goal” to which India is a signatory. They are considered two sides of the same coin which cannot be ignored in isolation.
The concern of women empowerment and gender equality came into existence in mid-80’s to strengthen the hands of women suffering from inequalities and gender discrimination. This terminology can be defined as the process of promoting women’s self-worth, right to influence social change for themselves and others, to control her own life & to determine her own choices. To summarize, it means providing equal right, equal status and equal opportunities to women in society.

Women enjoyed high status during prehistoric period but later on the lost their status gradually. Different religions treated women with high regards and women enjoyed equal rights like men.
In Hindu mythology, women were accorded high status with men in all aspects of life. They were educated at early age, married at mature age and were free to select their own husbands in a practice called “Swayamvar”. The principles of Sikhism stated that women have same soul as men and they are two sides of the same human coin. Women possess equal rights as men and gender discrimination in Sikh society has no religious basis. Buddhism although avow that woman are not considered as a complete entity but Buddha gave an equivalent status to them and established the world’s first order of nuns i.e. “Bhikkhuni Sangha”. It conceded to women a nobility of nature, strength of morality, and a capacity of wisdom, equal to that of man.

Jainism regards women within the same code of ethics as prescribed for men. They have given a very special place to women both Sadhvi (Religious women) and Sravika (Household women).
In Christianity, women have played an important role but they were not given equal status as compared to men.
However, in Islam women have been granted the highest status than any other religion. Despite fallacies, the Quran asserts that men and women have equal dignity. The Prophet preached boldly on the importance of women, celebrating their unique contributions to family and society, denouncing the ill-treatment of women and campaigning for their rights.
Yet, many of the negative customs around women in Islam arise not from Islamic guidance but from cultural practices, which not only victimize the Muslim women but also oppress their rights and status which stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Quran. There is no doubt that in Islam women are honored, guarded, and protected to secure their rights and raise their status.

“Seventy First Verse of Ninth Chapter” in Quran mentioned that “The men believers and the women believers are responsible for each other”. The interpretation of this verse describes the theme of equality between men and women, and so do they have equal responsibilities for observing Islamic teachings; hence both men and women are to be treated in parity with each other.

Islam teaches that women have as much right to education as men do. As per the teaching of Prophet Muhammad, the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male and female. This acknowledgement was largely implemented by Muslims throughout history.

Also some specific verses written in Quran also promote status of women as an independent identity, which says “Never will I waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other”. It reads that woman is an independent identity, responsible being and carries the burden of her moral and spiritual obligations.

According to Islamic Law, the right of women to her money, real estate and other properties is fully acknowledged. She has full right to buy, sell, mortgage any of her properties. It is notable that such right applies to her properties before marriage as well as to whatever she acquires thereafter.

On the contrary during pre-historic era in Arabic world, women were not treated as equal to men. They did not have freedom to choose whom to marry, forced marriages were common, education to girls was rare and female babies were abandoned or buried alive. As an adult they possessed no legal rights, and could be bought, sold and inherited. However, over the period of time from this position of legal powerlessness and inferiority, Islam has raised women to a status of influence and
prestige in family as well as in society.

Likewise, the women empowerment and gender parity in Kashmir has seen many ups and down over the past few decades. Belonging to the male- controlled society, woman had to fight for their empowerment and gender equality. Women rights in Kashmir faced major issues in context of harassment of young women participating in sports activities, dowry after marriage, domestic violence, acid attacks on women for not wearing hijab and discrimination at work places vis-a-vis male counterpart.

In contrast to that, in present day scenario the women empowerment and gender equality in Kashmir has uplifted the status of women to some extent, but not entirely. There are various indicators predominant in Kashmir against empowerment and equality which includes, declining sex ratio, gender difference in education, age of marriage, employment, access to resources, norms and attitudes, decision making power and spousal violence.

Article 10 of the United Nations General Assembly’s Convention supports elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and recognizes that gender inequality can be eliminated only by education of woman. The empowerment and bringing them to equal status as men in Kashmir, has been part of the development planning process and has helped in improving the status of the women in various spheres, but serious challenges still remain on the ground.

The problem of empowerment and inequality in Kashmir requires attention on the causes that are rooted to the ground realities, with regard to nutritional status, health practices, income generation, domestic violence, age of marriage, education, sex ratio and rights of women and children. For that reason, researchers, planners and administrators should look for social factors which have the potential to impact the outcome and bring about tangible improvement in the status of the women.
With this regard the state government commenced committed effort in a planned manner by starting various programmes such as Hausla (Women entrepreneurship Programme), Tejaswini (Financial support for ladies/ girls from age 18 to 35 years to start up their own business), Umeed (Encourage women to be self- dependent & self-sufficient), Parwaz (Focus on youth empowerment and their education), Mumkin (Procuring small commercial vehicle at subsidized rate), Saath (Self-Help group for women), LG Super 75 (Scholarship to girls who want to pusue medical, engineering, ITI or any other field), Ladli Beti (Assistance to new born girl child to counter the declining female sex ratio), State Marriage Assistance scheme (Assistance to the girls of poor families for their wedding) and many more providing opportunities for women in every field.
The only key to resolve these countless issues is by empowering women and provide them an equal status with men for building a healthy, progressive and prosperous society. However, it always has remained a challenge in reality to succeed in such efforts due to social, cultural and caste related pressure which corrupts the virtue of Islamic moral teachings and traditions.
Nelson Mandela once said “freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been liberated from all forms of oppressions”. Accordingly, the issue of equality and empowerment is not about eliminating the difference between two genders but providing fundamental rights and precondition for an equitable society for women. Hence, the position of the women in a society is the clear index to measure the development of that society.
Article 14 of “Equity before Law” under Indian Constitution men and women are awarded equal rights for independent political participation, right to inheritance and property. The natural inclination of women to profess their rights for empowerment and gender equality is deeply unpropitious to men from the patriarchal community; they perceive parity between men and women as a threat to their masculinity.

Evidently, genuine attempts to protect Muslim women through various ills of gender inequality ends up alienating local population and women suffers the consequences in all these accounts.
With all the confusion between history, culture, religion and society, it’s important to ask ourselves this question that, what is the cost we are willing to pay to achieve gender parity and women empowerment in our society?
Or is it evident to remain dumbfounded and bewildered with the ego of patriarchal community and subjective interpretation of Quranic texts influenced by historic and geopolitical conditions that consider men superior to women.
Or should we withstand the change to come over it wisely towards the path of prosperity, development and unbiased society where women are respected and treated at par with men.
To bring about this change the liberation must come from within by uprooting the patriarchal principles to eliminate all discrimination by empowering women and bestow them equal status which they deserve. By empowering women, the aspect of gender equality will automatically be achieved which is essential for social, political and economic development of families, community, states and countries.

Courtesy : G D ANDRESON

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