Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"One Step for Women, Ten Steps for a Nation"

On this International Women's Day, Roshan Ara highlights challenges faced by women in today's society

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.' She is presently a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

Towards Gender Sensitive Planning

Economic planning of a country is used as a tool by the planners and policy makers for taking major economic decisions to organize and utilize the available resources to take maximum advantage of them in terms of defined social ends. Planning acts as a blue print for the decision makers to pursue the desired future course of action for the development and prosperity of the nation. As Gandhi has well said, “One step for women, ten steps for a nation”. Although our country has witnessed a tremendous change in the overall development of its masses with the help of economic planning, these plans are framed for addressing the special needs of various sectors of the economy. All five year plans at national as well as state level appear to be biased against women. Women forming an important segment of population feel neglected in the planning process.

No doubt women have been involved in political setup of the country through right to vote and choose their representatives yet they form a major section of the disadvantaged group of the society. In order to strive for a balanced growth of all sections of society efforts have to be made towards promotion of equality, peace and prosperity. But in spite of five decades of planned development, India is still afflicted with poverty, illiteracy and inequality. The spread of education in the society is fairly unequal. In spite of having Sarvashiksha Abyan (SSA) and other compulsory educational programmes, India posses the largest number of illiterates in the world as about one third of our adult population is still illiterate. About 40 million of our children are out of schools. Majority of them are female. Urban women have tried to keep pace with the overall rate of literacy at national level. But rural women, particularly the agricultural and marginal farmers, are most disadvantaged lot. Women lag behind because the problems of backwardness have distinct gender dimensions. Thus there is need for a complete consolidated plan to change the present degree of backwardness in which women are placed.

Women’s problems should be solved on a wider national framework rather than to confine to regional thinking. The problems of men and women are different. Men are physically powerful and dominant sex, enjoy decision making powers, own resources, work less as compared to women, act as heads of families and are free to shape their own destiny. Women are physically weak, illiterate, resource less, less skilled having no access to credit and finance, lake information and authority and enjoy no decision making powers but act as machines at home which are run by their own vision and energy. Therefore, while framing the policies of development, the budget as well as package should be different.

The participation of women in unorganized sector of economy is increasing day by day. The opportunities of employment are uneven in the organized sector and only a meager section of society enters this sector. The economic compulsion has forced them to work in any capacity even if it is not conducive to their health. The major portion of housework at national level, if seen, is being performed by women. She performs the role of a labour in fields and also the role of a house mender and thus remains over burdened with double work load in the field as well as at home. Women care for cattle, sow, harvest, transplant and work as low paid handicraft workers. At grass root level, women act as the pillars of the economy. Women need to be given preference in education, health care and employment opportunities. Special measures need to be taken for their safety and security. They need to be honored and protected from all types of violence inside as well as outside their homes. Women need to be involved in active process of productive and considered as agents for economic change. A woman’s visible work needs to be given due recognition as she is silently contributing to the growth of economy. Their services towards the family, society and economy need to be analyzed and evaluated.

Women have been kept away from most of the welfare schemes as they are not considered capable of availing these facilities because of many social constraints. Their knowledge, skill and expertise needs to be utilized for the prosperity of the nation. Working women need to be provided with all facilities of hostels, creches etc so that more and more female participation in the workforce is possible. In the services of state governments, central governments and public as well as private sector, a separate quota has to be reserved for women. The unequal distribution of wealth between men and women is to be abandoned. Sex ratio has to be increased. Reservations in panchayats, legislative assemblies and parliament are necessary. Women need to be consulted for top decision making. They also need to be involved in scientific research so as to give realistic insights that will serve as guidelines for policy makers and help them to remove the impediments in their way of development. More and more research studies can help us to highlight the problems faced by women in their different areas of life. The gender biased curriculum needs to be abolished.

Government needs to take a worthwhile initiative to analyze the diverse issues related to women. Thus, it becomes imperative for the planners to reach this segment of population which has not been reached out. Planning commission should make a commitment of adequate resources for the effective implementation of the plans to achieve the national socio-economic goals. There is a strong need and justification to substantially step up allocation to all the sectors such as health, education, women and child development, rural development and social welfare etc. The integrated women empowerment programmes should be universalized covering all the blocks and the districts but the design, content and guidelines of the projects should be flexible enough to meet the specific requirements.

Special arrangements need to be made for the completion of a girl’s education. Dropouts need to be checked, its reasons need to be identified and solutions sought for it. More and more girl schools need to be opened preferably with female teachers so that the parents do not hesitate to send their daughters to schools. Separate women’s universities, law colleges, medical and engineering colleges and management institutes need to be established. Above all, for uplifting of women, opening up of women’s banks are the need of the hour. Through these banks women can have access to credit and will help them to invest in different types of projects. Women’s hospitals and maternity homes is the need of the time.

India accounts for nearly 20% of worlds maternal deaths. Every year about 1, 25000 women die from pregnancy related problems. Poor maternal health is a matter of serious concern. More than 7% of new born babies perish every year. Safe motherhood can be possible only when women have the facility of anti-natal and pre-natal checkups. Maternal and infant mortality rates have to be brought down. More and more women teachers, doctors, scientists and judges are required. Women need to be made aware of their reproductive rights and various types of family planning techniques. Women’s health needs are to be given a priority. The dietary intake of women in lower economic groups is deficient by five hundred to six hundred calories. The issue of improved health and nutrition is linked to access and control over local, social and economic structures. This needs a focused planning backup.

Even though male domination still persists to haunt women’s lives both inside and outside the home, many women are coming forward to make their presence felt. In the present situation, no nation can afford to have its women folk sitting behind untapped, unexposed, unrecognized, and ignored while she is a major contributing factor in every walk of life directly or indirectly. Well and qualified women professionals aspire for satisfying results after acquiring knowledge and expertise to shoulder higher responsibilities and involvement in decision making. Thus the needs of women are to be addressed separately so that utilization of funds can be analyzed. Rural women especially need some special attention. Their problems are multiple which need to be addressed properly. They have no access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and their overall health conditions are miserable. Heavy load bearing leads them to occupational diseases. They suffer from water born diseases and therefore giving them access to clean drinking water will free them from drudgery of fetching water from long distances. The resources need to be shifted to these areas in order to bride the gender gap and a mechanism needs to be developed to plan, implement and monitor the ‘bridging of the gap’. They should be provided with safe environment and sustainable livelihood.

The ownership rights of property need to be transferred to women also. Laws need to be gender sensitive and ensure equal provision and access to resources for men and women. Broader focus needs to be proper implementation of laws. The power relations in family as well as in society have to be changed. Women should be allowed to voice their preferences and needs. For women to be able to speak out within the family and community, social factors have to be taken into account and conditions to be created for enabling the environment which would allow it to happen. Women act as the back bone of the economic and social system of the country. If they are ignored, they cannot be in a position to care for their families as well as the whole society.

Planners need to identify the healthy and unhealthy trends while shaping the women’s profile. They must initiate to identify the barriers in the way of women’s progress and rectify the drawbacks so as to make matters a reality. Planners need to be fully aware of the odds that women face in their different phases of life. No agenda of government is going to succeed unless the very basic changes are ensured in the administrative structures at all levels. Plans have to be shaped in such a way so that benefits of development can be reaped by women as well. They need to be involved in decision making at any cost so that their experiences, knowledge and skills can be fully utilized. It would go a long way to involve both the sexes in framing the policies and programmes for the welfare of their nation. Any bias in planning will lead to discrimination and exploitation of half of the population on the planet.

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