Daughters talking about their marriage or even expressing their wish to get married are a taboo and sometimes even their character becomes questionable
• Our Muslim majority society hasn’t been influenced by religious injunctions guiding gender treatment
• Naya Kashmir Programme in 1938-1939 provided equal rights to all irrespective of gender
• Strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful culture based stereotypes about male and female determining gender appropriate behavior: Study
• Misogynist cultural restraints have reduced women to a second class citizen
• Many married girls have been maltreated for want of their salaries often culminating in dissolution of marriage
• Women not giving birth to sons are made to think they have missed the purpose of life
The consciousness to actually make gender justice possible and implement it came only around first in the medieval Arab world through the divine teachings of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and thereafter towards the late 18th century via the human rights declaration charter. Gradually, it became an indispensable part of human right and a condition for social justice in various international empowerment programmes. However, gender justice, being more of a social requirement, cannot be achieved by just addressing issues like education, employment, freedom of expression etc.
As for women in modern day Kashmir, they underwent a certain degree of change in their consciousness about their role and status from early decades of 20th century mainly due to the introduction of modern education, an emerging political consciousness and The Naya Kashmir Programme (1938-39) providing equal rights to all irrespective of gender. The successive governments safeguarded rights of women which consequently led to a qualitative impact as women achieved a fair degree of social mobility via education and employment.
As per a study by Dr. Nazifa Alvi titled ‘Women Problems in Srinagar and Pulwama Districts’, 88 percent of women interviewed between 18 and above 40 years of age were revealed to have expressed that education is a must for both genders, indicating a progressive change in their thinking. However, in background of this development there is still an insignificant change in their societal status as strong discrimination in families continues.
In contemporary Kashmir, issue of gender justice does not arise from religion or government in crucial human development areas like education, employment or health but from the way the 21st century woman is being treated and expected to live as per the conditions acceptable to our conservative society. Despite being an abode of Sufi and Reshi movements for centuries, our Muslim majority society hasn’t been influenced by religious injunctions guiding gender treatment. Sociological and psychological studies reveal that some of the strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful culture based stereotypes about male and female determining gender appropriate behavior. These norms demand women should be nothing more than being passive, inhibited and self effacing so as to survive in society at large.
Irrespective of human rights guaranteed by both religion and state, the misogynist cultural restraints have reduced women to a second class citizen, a greater part of which has been surprisingly contributed and endorsed by women themselves. Regardless of how much education girls receive in our society, women folk especially have been traditionally known to condition their daughters not to be assertive or outspoken as it goes against the established ideas of femininity in society at large. In contrast, sons are brought up without any such reservations. Daughters are reminded to eat whatever is provided to them without expressing their likes and dislikes so as to supposedly prepare them for post-marriage life while as when it comes to sons their tastes for food are duly considered. Furthermore, daughters talking about their marriage or even expressing their wish to get married are a taboo, sometimes to the extent that their character becomes questionable.
Lately, misogynist tendencies have resulted in extremely ironic demands. With the changing socio-economic scenario women are expected to be perfect homemakers as well as fat eight salaried employees deteriorating their physical and emotional well-being. Given the current grim unemployment scenario irrespective of gender this situation has become even more onerous.
There are many reported as well as unreported cases where married girls have been maltreated for want of their salaries often culminating in dissolution of marriage. One such complaint was registered at Rambagh women’s police station in 2015. According to the renowned Kashmiri sociologist late Prof. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, some of the known identified issues which women have been suffering include – she is ignored in decision making, dowry demands and deaths, lack of health facilities, denial of financial assistance on part of close male relations etc. Looking at the latest sex ratio which is 889-1000, it is clear that ‘Gender Preference’ phenomenon is still a reality. Women not giving birth to sons are made to think they have missed the purpose of life.
According to a 2002 survey by Dr.Nazifa Ali, out of 450 women interviewed 52.5 percent were not found happy in their families, 80 percent revealed mal-treatment the main form of domestic violence and 85 percent complained they had no role in decision making regarding education or health of their children. As per a 2015 report in IPS (Inter Press Service) entitled ‘Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violence’ Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s Women’s Police Station, claimed to have received between 7-10 cases of domestic disputes on a typical day involving violence towards wife. A decade ago, Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla opined that violence has risen simultaneously with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. He observed that with more women leaving home for work, there are men in the household who feel their financial hold weakening causing conflict as they do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a better economic status.
Laws prohibiting gender biases cannot make a difference unless they are alien to the collective consciousness of society. Disparity exists in minds which need to be fixed. Therefore, no amount of welfare programs be they spiritual, political or economic can beautify the ugly picture unless both the genders are sensitized and participate together in bringing change. Fundamental changes in social attitudes are need of the hour to achieve some degree of gender justice. In a household, youngsters acquire and imitate what they see elders doing. So it is important for them, parents especially, to share household chores as well as outside chores, participate equally in financial matters and exhibit joint decision-making. Both sons and daughters should be taught the basic life skills which can become the basis of creating egalitarian relations between the two genders. More egalitarian the family, lesser will be the gender conflicts.
Author is doctorate in Islamic Studies with specialization in women’s studies, gender issues and Iranian studies and a former lecturer in Degree College, Shopian