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Baseera Rafiqi, Freelance correspondent, Kashmir, India – WNN features
Editor’s note: India has some of the most robust government statistical machinery among developing countries. Yet its periphery suffers from a data deficit — data is unavailable or the available data is of poor quality. In preparation of this article, little to no reliable data exists reporting on the condition of women in workplaces in the Kashmir region. According to the Jammu & Kashmir Development Report (pdf), data for women’s occupations for both states are unavailable and/or unreliable.
(WNN) Kashmir, SOUTH ASIA – The Indian sub-continent took a big leap when its female population was exposed to the world of knowledge, information and technology. This trend took time to spread in other parts of India and Kashmir was no exception as the northernmost part of India, known for its beauty, embodied knowledge and gave women the freedom to learn and choose careers of their interest such as journalism, military, modeling, acting, and other fields with room for development.
According to the 2011 literacy census, the average female literacy rate in Kashmir is 57.11 percent, far above the earlier census. With women taking up studies and venturing into different fields, they have created space for themselves as just a few years back one could not think of women at any executive post, or as a journalist or an entrepreneur.
Essar Batool, one of the few young and enthusiastic social workers of the valley, believes that the society is changing very fast and all new fields are opening up for women. Batool recently co-authored the book, “Do you Remember Kunan Poshpira” and is an avid social worker. According to Batool the system in Kashmir is the most basic problem in addition to other people taking decisions on the behalf of the region’s women.
“Studying in Kashmir is really a tricky thing, with your family and society already having made decisions for you and the problematic education system that doesn’t encourage creativity or critical thinking. This creates a truckload of problems with studying here,” said Batool.
For Batool, working in Kashmir has been an eventful experience. “Fighting the social norms, I took up a job in the sector I had specialized in whereas suggestions kept coming that I do a B.Ed and become a government teacher.”
She believes the Kasmir region needs help in terms of humanitarian assistance as the humanitarian sector is very demanding. Workers need to be flexible in regard to timing and schedules and need to be ready to work under any circumstance whereas in the Valley only works stretching from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. are considered unacceptable for women.
“This kind of work culture is difficult for Kashmiris to understand or to accept as we have always lived a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. work lifestyle. It becomes difficult when you are a woman as the work involves travelling long distances into villages and being with people on the ground.”
Batool has faced many challenges in her work and thinks that social acceptance to it is still very low. Despite this belief, she has done work with many organizations to date.
“After completing my Masters in Social Work (MSW), I knew that I had to be in this sector and the opportunity came very soon as I got a chance to work with IGSSS on a youth project and to date I have headed two projects: a youth development project and more recently a flood response project after September 2014 floods. Apart from this I have co authored a book on the mass rape of Kunan -Poshpora, that will be out later this year. I write blogs for Iran Hub and occasionally for print media as well. Currently, I work as a freelance trainer, mostly with youth,” said Batool.
Batool believes there exists much confusion about what social work is all about and that it is vastly undermined and underrated.
“The issue with acceptance is that, if you wait for it, you will be disappointed. You have to create acceptance for what you are doing through not only your will and determination but also because you need to be sure that you know what you are doing.”
Having a firm belief and caring less for what others think is the only mantra of her life as Batool convinced her family that she knew she had found the right career and the attitudes of society really didn’t matter.
“Society will always have an opinion about you, no matter what you do. In my life, I have never cared about what the society thinks or whether or not it will accept my choices. If I am right, then there’s no stopping me.”
Women Journalists in the Valley
While the presence of women can be seen in almost every field now, be it social work or journalism, one young woman from Kashmir is adamnent to make the voices from the valley global.
For Riahana Maqbool, born in the Northern district of Tangmargh where she got her early education, choosing journalism as a profession was a meaningful pursuit. Maqbool currently works for the award-winning news organization Global Press Journal as a reporter from the Kashmir region, though a woman journalist in Kashmir is still seen by many as a job reserved for men.
“Being a girl and choosing journalism was the toughest decision I have made in my life and it is also one of the best decisions I have made. I love journalism to the core of my heart and will continue to do so. In Kashmir, female journalists are limited and sometimes it becomes difficult to report stories.”
Maqbool vividly remembers during the initial days of her reporting when she attended press conferences as the only female. She later discovered that other women journalists chose not to have a presence at the events due to critical comments from male counterparts.
“The social environment in Kashmir seems particularly charged for women covering issues where men feel superior. I became interested in journalism, when I was in my eighth standard. I used to watch the reporters on TV and aspired to become like them but later I became more interested in print media. I even got an initial disapproval from my parents when I told them I wanted to study journalism. I have not chosen journalism as a job, rather a lifestyle. I want the voice of the voiceless to reach a large audience. I want to do good work for my society and hope that it will change in the coming time.”
Women in Legal Professions
While women journalists in Kashmir are paving the way for a new profession, the judiciary is also a very important sector where they are needed. In recent years many young women can be seen wearing black coats coming out of local courts. Lebul Nisa is one of them.
Born during the peak of conflict in her city, Nisa grew very sensitive to what she observed during her childhood. After completing her schooling at Presentation Convent High School in Srinagar, she later when to Kashmir University and pursued her bachelor’s degree in law, including a diploma in human rights. Upon completion of her studies, she worked as a human rights lawyer in Kashmir.
“Having worked as a human rights lawyer, and having met all types of human rights violations taking place has given me deep insight and concrete understanding about the issues here. It also helped me to learn so much personally, especially survival mechanisms.”
Later she also underwent a training where she learned how to make documentary films on community issues, including the film “In Limbo”, that went for screening in the White House in Washington DC and received a Laadli Media Award in India the same year.
“Considering societies like Kashmir, it is difficult for the masses to accept any female in a male dominated profession. People don’t take women seriously even if they do a commendable job. Factors of exploitation always prevail. While I was shooting my documentary I had to face a lot hurdles. I couldn’t go out during early hours and I had to wait for someone to accompany me. And people never take my work seriously.”
Apart from the controversy, Nisa is an active participant in debates and discussions.
“I acted as the presiding officer in one of the Lok Adalat held by the district legal services authority at the lower court of Kashmir. Female lawyers in the valley aren’t accepted as compared to other professions. We do not receive the warm acceptance as doctors and engineers do, primarily because of the mentality of people.”
No matter what, Nisa says she must work with full passion and hard work in order to find a place for herself.
Baseera Rafiqi is a freelance reporter based in Kashmir covering stories of struggle and development. She has been writing since 2012 for various local, national and international portals with special coverage on success stories, development, health and the environment.
Recognized by UNESCO for ‘Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics” WNN began in 2005 as a solo blogger’s project by WNN founder Lys Anzia. Today it brings news stories on women from 5+ global regions to the attention of international ‘change-makers’ including the United Nations and over 600 NGO affiliates and United Nations agencies.
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