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Women in Kashmir

THIS year like previous years 8th of March,
Women’s day was celebrated as worldwide event
to honour women’s accomplishments from political to social achievements and thus raising voice for gender equality. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8. This day is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women’s organisations and other civil rights institutions to praise women for being role models despite hurdles and societal pressures. The day was recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration. This year, International Women’s Day theme by UN was ‘Balance for Better” which suggested to build a gender-balanced world. A message by UN mentioned that “from grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Balance drives a better working world. Collective action and shared responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world is key. Let’s all help create a balance for better.” Like rest of the world, in Pakistan too, different rallies, events, talks were arranged throughout the country to acknowledge the efforts of women in every walk of life.
Generally speaking, one of the important facets which is often neglected while talking about women rights and abuse is the dilemma of rape. This word itself is considered as stigma in society and many cases of rape, if highlighted or reported end up with no conclusive change in mind-set of society as a whole. Such incidents are becoming common and many factors are held responsible for these incidents of rape. Unfortunately, rape is also used a tool of punishment in conflict zones and history suggests that this one element of violence is used as an effective weapon and strategy for disarming psychological war. This weapon of rape was used by many combatants and this global issue has no national boundaries of ideology or religion. It is more of associated with masculine identity commonly but in war times there is often violation of men and children too through different means of torture and distress. Therefore, it often does not remain gender bound but women being soft target are more of victim of rape in war precincts. There are many examples of such mass rapes during conflicts and war times during Rawanda genocide, Bosnia & Kosovo conflicts, Khojaly massacre by Armenian forces in Azerbaijan and not to forget Kashmir where such incidents occur frequently to suppress freedom movement.
In Kashmir history mass rape incident ensued in area of Kunan Poshpora in February 1991 and social stigma generated out of this incident is that women still face difficulties in getting married. Until recently, there existed no punishment for “war rape” in international law. War crimes or humanitarian law specifically focuses on the treatment of the civilian population and “any devastation not justified by military necessity”. Thereafter, war rape has rarely been prosecuted as a war crime. Since 1949 Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits wartime rape and enforced prostitution. These prohibitions were reinforced by the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Though legislations are present by international organizations for such war victims but to make this world a safer place for women, education, media, governments, law enforcements etc can together bring a change and for such incidents awareness surely is the prevention. Women in Indian-occupied Kashmir have been subjected to great sufferings since the uprising in the valley began in 1989. Many of them have been widowed, displaced, tortured, raped and jailed. Some have also had their sons killed in the ongoing conflict. Because of the unending disorder, women in Kashmir are forced to undergo many hardships. Life is not easy for them in any case, yet they are fighting bravely against all hardships and stand like a rock against Indian oppression despite losing their loved ones daily.
It’s not about loss of loved ones in Kashmir but unfortunately Indian forces do not spare single female of any age to target them of their barbarism. Young school going girls were victim of pellet guns. Those who come out of houses for protest are beaten in an inhumane way. During the search operations in houses, they are abused and those who try to raise their voice against barbarism are made silent by killing of Indian forces. But one should salute their will and resilience that they gather in large numbers often, protest for their right of self-determination along with other Kashmiris men and women and chant slogans of Azadi or freedom. For sure, one day their struggle will bear fruit and they will be having free land from tyrants.
Women in Kashmir always stand by their men in political struggle for Kashmir. Though they are not very active in politics but yet they share their participation on different occasions. Sadly we see that many women are part of politics and decision making processes but worldwide it is witnessed that women are not part of peace processes between conflicted countries. Women through their abilities can play pivotal role in resolving conflicts and Kashmiri women must be appreciated, supported and encouraged at every step because they are the ones who are standing firm against all odds.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.