Conciliation Resources’ partners, Atia Anwar and Ezabir Ali are working independently on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir with women affected by the on-going conflict. In a highly patriarchal society, women – particularly in the more remote areas – are frequently marginalised and excluded from efforts to build peace. Atia and Ezabir are empowering the women to raise their voices, advocating for their rights, and encouraging them to play an active role in creating a more peaceful Kashmir.
Atia works across Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. She conducts workshops, focus group discussions and small meetings with women including those in the Neelam valley, along the LoC – an area that has suffered direct fighting and a lack of economic development due to the conflict.
She explores the women’s perspectives on the conflict, works with them to identify the roles they can play in improving the situation for women, and then reaches out to policymakers to advocate on behalf of the women.
So many issues are ignored and women’s voices in these areas aren't heard. We explore the issues and challenges and then identify a role for the women in peacebuilding.
She works with everyone from grassroots women in remote areas to students, academics and professionals such as journalists and lawyers. Following the connections with Atia, many of the women go on to play an active role in their societies. During the July 2016 elections in AJK, women from the workshops Atia conducted were on the frontline in the rallies and processions, reaching out to people and campaigning.
The women who go on to take up active roles are pleased to be recognised for doing something valuable for their communities. They take pride in the fact that it is not just symbolic but is something really significant, that they are making a meaningful contribution to society.
Through the organisation, EHSAAS, Ezabir works in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh – three geographically, politically and culturally very different areas in Indian-administered Kashmir. She delivers workshops and speaks to groups of women about the psycho socio and economic aspects of life in a conflict zone. She has documented the impact of conflict on the lives of women in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, including those living along the LoC, making them aware of their role and stakes in peace. She also works to raise awareness about the rights of women, including half-widows. These are women who are in a very vulnerable position - their husbands are missing due to the conflict, sometimes for decades, but have not been pronounced dead.
Issues of peace and security concerning women are being looked at from a militaristic perspective in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and no longer looked at from a social perspective. As part of my work, I have tried to raise awareness on such sensitive issues while addressing some of these through the existing socio religious systems in place.
Ezabir’s work on the issues affecting half-widows has led to increased support and understanding amongst religious leaders, hard-to-engage groups and society at large, on the rights of women in general and half widows in particular. Her initial contact with the Ulema [religious leaders] on this issue, led to a ‘fatwa’ being passed to address the ambiguity surrounding the number of years a half-widow must wait before considering remarrying if she wishes. More recently she has made considerable progress on advocating for the property rights of half-widows.
It has been a very challenging but rewarding journey. The Ulema with whom I have engaged, have started to demonstrate a shift in understanding with regards to women’s rights, and are now willing to consider different ways to address the issue.
A change in attitude has been seen during this period, as they are increasingly willing to engage with women on these issues, when previously they would only be willing to interact with men.
These are gradual but important steps in assuring the basic rights of women to live a more dignified life and in building a gradual positive approach towards recognising women’s broadening role in society.