It is time that creative approaches are initiated to reshape common roles of women into non-traditional peace leadership roles. Only when women reclaim their position and roles in community, can Kashmir hope to witness a new dawn of empowerment and development for all.
By SOHINI JANA
Women, historically the hearth-keepers, the nurturers, the relationship-managers and the embodied custodians of the rhythmic cycles of life had once been acknowledged across cultures as the force and presence animating life processes and also the ones balancing them. You would find them working diligently in the fields, in the kitchens, in the gardens, in the healing spaces; engaged in educating the young ones and creating beauty with nimble fingers etching out patterns and weaving or sewing them in.
These were common sights in most places across the world, over an extended timeline. In fact, these scenes remain commonplace to this day when one imagines a broad definition of every day community life anywhere. Amidst the humming of a solitary song while working in the fields or a celebration where they come together to share and preserve symbolic rituals upholding the essence of their communities as the keepers of tradition, women have undisputedly played the most important role historically in ensuring that the environment for civilization to flourish is insured in the practised art of enabling community.
It is not surprising then that in a conflict affected location like Kashmir that has been subjected to senseless violence for decades, women have found themselves to be dethroned from their regular roles, their spirits and aspirations steadily losing voice while threats to their physical safety had further robbed them of their traditional roles in public spaces.
This gradual retreat of women from normal community practices alongside the steady incubation of conflict variables resulted over the years in a downward spiral in terms of deepening fissures in inter-community relations. The viscous cycle of violence in self-perpetuating mode has emerged in the light of significant erosion of trust within inter-community relations. A vision for positive peace in the valley can barely thus be imagined without factoring in the need to return to the women their safe space for their fundamentally important healing and balancing role.
This article seeks to draw the reader’s attention to the multi-faceted roles of women that should inform an inclusive and far-sighted approach in designing the way forward for Kashmir. As peace processes are initiated in the valley and development is stepped up to push the economy forward, there remains the need to engage women in healing the fractures and bridging the divides in community to promote trust-building for a sustainable future.
Women as the story-tellers for peace
It is common knowledge that the first encounter of a child with language that weaves in thoughts and expressions is often under the care of the mother. The nurturing space of the home is the primary template for a child’s nascent and formative understanding of the world. Women should be trained to revive their community narratives through stories and fables, parables and folklore that highlight the trust and values of connection between diverse communities in their neighborhoods. As the providers of the first psycho-emotional space for experiencing safety and connection, women as trained story-tellers could facilitate early age learning orientation of children that are inclined to support the children in practicing empathy and building emotional resistance to manipulative onslaughts of violent ideals. In Kashmir where the youth are increasingly becoming vulnerable to radicalization based on destructive and elusive ideals which are only but political tools to feed the machine of conflict in operation, early age interventions by women could work in preventive role to arrest the trend in the future.
In re-imagining the power of stories to bring people together to find common grounds, women could further be encouraged to host and facilitate story sharing sessions with different stakeholders from their communities in public spaces. Festivals could be utilised to encourage such social gatherings with multiple stakeholder participation. As a mode of informal community education, these sessions could be a starting point to re-engaging women to revive the practised art of community building through connection and informal community education.
Women as the artists for peace
In Kashmir, women have been known to be reputed artists practicing traditional crafts like embroidery, weaving of shawls and other dress material. As the crafts of Kashmir have the scope for earning foreign exchange besides preserving the traditional artistic skills for future generations, women can be encouraged to take up the role of skill training in the arts in institutionalized spaces. While engaging with diverse people from different communities in the area to train them in skill and engage them to foster inclusive business models to promote the art, women could become the channel for weaving inter-community co-learning spaces for facilitating more inter-community interactions indirectly. It has been observed that businesses which bring in diverse people to promote artistic ventures, have the potential to become a medium for building inter-community cooperation and collaboration in the long run. With an aim to create a culture of using art for peace, women could find engaging career roles which would promote their participation in community as more than artists, as entrepreneurs and skill trainers.
Women in sustainable agriculture and conservation
Women in their intimate connection with the cycles of nature can find opportunities for growth in the field of agriculture and conservation. As the ones tending to the fields, already accustomed to the role of being an extra helping hand during sowing and reaping seasons, women can be encouraged to learn tools and methods of engaging in sustainable agriculture and conservation efforts. As conflict does not spare the terrain of collateral damage, conservation efforts and careers in sustainable agriculture can be seen as one of the much-needed entry points for women to step into their natural healing and balancing roles in community.
Research in agriculture technology and implementation of the same while also encouraging more participation of women in allied industries such as food processing and as part of the supply chain from the farms to the markets can significantly bring women out of their homes to participate in community. Oriented and trained to be conservation specialists while working in the agriculture sector in various roles, women can integrate their societal roles into rewarding careers if given a conducive environment.
Women in peace-keeping and community building roles are untapped human resource potential that can be utilised to significant effects to arrest trends in escalation in Kashmir. It takes intention and foresight besides political will to engage women in roles that would strengthen community resilience and build community immunity to resist the onslaughts of violence promoting conflict. If supported by community and given tactical support, women can step in to harness their common roles to effect related peace processes in their environments.
It takes courage to trust women to do what they have been historically reputed to excel at already, while re-imagining the scope of application of those very skills for more diverse problem solving. It is time that creativity engages women to reshape their common roles into non-traditional peace leadership roles. Only when women reclaim their position and roles in community, can Kashmir hope to witness a new dawn of empowerment and development for all.
Author is Director at JK Policy Institute