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.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Treating Women as Equals

Roshan says celebrating Women's Day is a good idea, but wonders if there ever will be a change in the 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.' Until her teaching position is made permanent, Ms. Ara moves from assignment to assignment. She was previously a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. Presently she is a Senior Lecturer in Commerce, Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Amirakadal, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

Towards Women Friendly Policies

8th March is the International Women’s Day. Every year we celebrate this day with great fervour. On the occasion many seminars and workshops are organised and strategies are chalked out to make women equal participants in the process of development. But on the same day of the next year, we see that no change has taken place. Women continue to suffer from various forms of violence, be it domestic violence, sexual harassment or dowry deaths. Crimes like rape, molestation, eve teasing and female foeticide are showing an increasing trend. Women continue to be a neglected and exploited lot. Since women constitute a major component of our society, their backwardness, poverty and exploitation is a big blot on the face of the nation. There arises a need for women friendly policies which will help in raising the status of women in the society and address to their needs and aspirations. Women’s equality in power sharing and active participation in decision making has to be ensured for the achievement of the goals of empowerment. All possible measures should be taken to provide women equal access to and full participation in decision making bodies at every level including the legislation, executive, judicial, political, cultural, economic and social fields. No nation can flourish until it makes its womenfolk active agents of social transformation. World wide experience shows that supporting and strengthening the role of women contributes to higher economic growth, improves child survival and family health, reduces maternal mortality and helps in slowing down population growth. The policy makers and administrators should see through gendered lens.

Before taking any decision in the area of societal development, an analysis should be made of the current responsibilities and contributions of men and women. The issues of gender equality should lie at the centre of policy formulation and resource allocation. It becomes imperative for the government to identify the areas of concern and to ensure that socio-economic data are recorded separately for men and women. Many areas related to the development of women need special attention of the government like education, health, nutrition, drinking water, sanitation, housing and shelter.

Every type of empowerment begins with education as education is the basic agent of social change. Attention needs to be focussed on the enhancement of literacy rate of women, opening of more schools for girls, recruitment of more female teachers at school, college as well as the university levels. Girls need to be provided with free education and other incentives to enable them to attend schools. Keeping in view the growing demand for female doctors, the women participation in medical education needs to be increased. Opening of medical and engineering colleges for women, establishing separate women’s universities and management institutes for women’s greater equity and access to higher education is the need of the hour. It is heartening to note that the 12th Five Year Plan is laying greater focus on women’s higher education. We need to create a gender sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate lifelong learning as well as development of occupational, vocational and technical skills of women. Gender biased curriculum needs to be changed at all levels of education system in order to address sex stereotyping as one of the causes of gender discrimination.

Regarding the health status of women, government needs to take immediate steps to safeguard the health of women. The maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate has to be reduced by providing women access to free and quality health care. Improving maternal health is one of the Millennium Development Goals. The slogan- a healthy mother, a healthy nation- has to be turned into a reality. A balanced and nutritious diet has to be provided to expectant mothers as well as teenage girls. Women need to be provided with clean drinking water and sanitation in order to protect them from women related health hazards. A survey recently conducted in states having an unfavourable sex ratio reported forty eight percent cases of malnourishment of girls compared to boys. Malnutrition constitutes a greater threat to the development potential of young girls. These girls are at a high risk of anaemia and mental and behavioural disorder. A nation can prosper and grow only when it is composed of healthy and happy families. Economically backward women should be provided with the facility of housing and shelter.

Violence against women is one of the biggest challenges that threatens women empowerment and development. Violence against women affects the lives of millions of women in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across all cultural, regional and religious boundaries and thereby impedes the right of women to participate fully in the society. We should be aware that violence against women is the violation of the most fundamental human rights and therefore steps have to be taken to curb it. The legal structure should be reviewed and more stringent laws framed to tackle the violence against women. The law makers should be gender trained and gender sensitized while framing such policies. Strict enforcement and speedy redress of grievances of women has to be ensured.

Demand for a separate gender budget is on the rise for quite some time. Research needs to be conducted to study the priority areas for women. Women’s problems need to be studied through gender analysis which can identify the existing gaps of inequality. Resources should flow into these areas to bridge the gender gap and a workable mechanism should be developed to plan, implement and monitor the bridging of this gap. Women need to be given a role in decision making and planning through adequate representation. In order to promote gender equality and empowerment of women, plans and budgets have to be gender friendly and not gender blind. Economic policy makers aiming to improve the overall economic efficiency should be aware that the real value of women’s work is not often visible. Women’s work needs to be given economic recognition. Investment in women skills leads to higher productivity and more efficient use of resources. Women face barriers in benefiting from development initiatives. In the labour markets lower wages are paid to women for the same work as done by their counterparts as a result of which much of their work remains unpaid and its opportunity cost is mostly zero.

The agencies working for welfare of women should be monitored and supervised by women. In order to make women economically self reliant, women entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged. They need to be provided access to banks and other financial institutions so that they can easily establish their own enterprises. They also need to be provided trainings to manage these organisations properly and efficiently and profitably. Successful women entrepreneurship will on one hand strengthen the economy of the country and on the other hand curb the growing menace of unemployment among women. Women will be the job providers and not the job seekers. Various entrepreneurial development programmes are required to train prospective women entrepreneurs as there is a wide gap between men and women in their role in activities of business.

Gertrude Von Le Fort writes “a woman is at the very roots of social life. If she keeps the sources of life pure and healthy, the entire social order will be renewed reinvigorated by her effort”. It is she who inspires and enforces the code of social behaviour. She is the keeper of tradition, custodian of culture, morals and manners. It is essential to recognise the connection between women’s health and food security and other economic and environmental conditions. Legal and regulatory frameworks have to be modified accordingly. Well designed policies and programmmes are not enough. These need to be implemented effectively. Involving women directly in project designing can make programme delivery more effective. It is important to realize the challenges to our development process to ensure an equal and a just society.

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