|HER WORLD||Sunday, September 15, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
amazing amount of work ‘non-workers’ do
I feel strongly about...
women in the Valley have played a frontline role, but 13 years of
insurgency have ensured that women bear the burden of rebuilding a
traumatised society, and their presence in politics today is almost
EVEN though the state of Jammu and Kashmir is hurtling towards elections, officially, the presence of women in Kashmir’s political process is almost a rarity. Historically, women in the Valley have played a frontline role, but 13 years of insurgency have ensured that women bear the burden of rebuilding a traumatised society, and their presence in politics today is almost negligible.
Out of the 87-member Legislative Assembly, only one woman was elected during the state elections in 1996; the ruling National Conference government nominated two others. In the Legislative Council, two of 36 nominated members are women. Although the National Panchayat (Village Council) Act of 1989 guaranteed one-third reservation for women, during the elections in Jammu and Kashmir two years ago, the results were dismal. Of 22, 700 elected posts, only 68 panches and two sarpanches were women, most of them from Jammu and Ladakh, says Ajay Kumar Sadotara, Minister for Agricultural Development and Panchayats. Out of 24 ministers, only one is a woman— Sakhina Itoo, now the Minister of State for Tourism.
However, 50 years ago Kashmir’s political theatre was more equitably divided between the sexes. There were more women movers and shakers than you could shake a stick at. Leading the pack was Sheikh Abdullah’s wife and Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s mother — Begum Akbar Jehan, popularly known as Madre-e-Mehraban. A Parliamentarian, who represented Srinagar and Anantnag in the Lok Sabha and was lionised by her own generation, she was a social activist who had also fought in the National Militia. As did Zenaib Begum, sister of former Chief Minister, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. Much before these worthies, Zoona, a milkmaid by profession, was a gun-toting leader of the Quit Kashmir Movement of 1946. And there was Mahumda Ali, a leading light of the Left Movement. More recently, Kashmiri Pandits like Krishna Mishri spearheaded a teacher’s movement in the Valley. These were not damsels in distress — they were strong women making a mark, fighting as equal partners with men.
But ever since insurgency took root in the Valley, the statistics of women leaders have dwindled dramatically. Although a few women have formed activist groups like the Muslim Khawateen Markaz and the Kashmir Women’s Forum and have led marches, especially against human rights violations, their numbers remain small.
The two most prominent women today in Kashmiri politics ironically occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum. Mehbooba Mufti, Vice-President of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party founded by her father and former Union Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. And Asiya Andrabi, founder of the Dukhtaran-Millat (Daughters of the Community), an orthodox Islamic group with only a few hundred members.
Mufti entered politics on a Congress ticket in the 1996 Assembly elections. But later, she resigned and joined her father’s opposition party. While she advocates greater autonomy for Kashmir under the rubric of a constructive dialogue with India, Andrabi promotes complete secession from India. If anything, Andrabi represents the fundamentalist face of the women’s political movement in the Valley. It is well known that her organisation wants to Islamise the struggle in Kashmir. It supported the idea of women wearing burkhas (veils), promoted last year by lesser-known radical militant outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jabbar.
In between these opposites are women like Itoo, who, at 24, was pressurised into contesting the 1996 elections because militants had killed her father, a speaker in the Assembly. Waiting in the wings are women like Shamima Firdous, a political activist with 23 years of experience, and a close associate of Begum Abdullah, who heads the recently constituted women’s wing of the National Conference. Firdous agrees on the decline in women’s political participation, but she puts it down to the unstable conditions in Kashmir. Besides, extended periods of governor’s and President’s rule have taken their toll.
Mufti believes the barriers to women’s political participation have become almost insurmountable today! Very few Kashmiri Muslim women get permission from their families to join politics. To go and meet all kinds of people — militants and security forces included — without protection is almost unimaginable for them. As for the active women among the Kashmiri Pandits, they have either fled to Jammu or Delhi or are practically invisible.
The women who have taken the plunge are, at best, reluctant politicians — in harness because a father, husband or son has been killed or made way for them. Yet Mufti believes that women make better leaders, as they tend to empathise with the situation more. "The problem is not just political in Kashmir, it is also a human one: 20,000 widows, innumerable orphans, countless missing people. Women can understand the pain. Besides, they are less corrupt and more selfless."
Apart from the political cost, 13 years of insurgency have come with a huge social cost for women. Militancy runs on its own dynamics and one of these is enforcing a certain kind of identity for women. It encourages a restrictive way of life and promotes symbols like dress codes. For instance, the modern western dress for men can never be a problem, but even modern and liberal Kashmiri women like Mufti have to cover their heads to ensure acceptability.
In this ethos, men find it difficult to accept women as equal partners. Women politicians shatter the quintessential categories of gender and families reinforced by unstable social conditions. According to Professor Dabla, Head of the Sociology Department at Kashmir University, strong and independent women, the rule-breakers of the 1950s and 60s are targets of their own culture today.
Maybe that explains why the National Conference has yet to announce its reservation for women. This despite the fact that in 1931, Sheikh Abdullah went against conventionally accepted Muslim notions and guaranteed equality for women when drawing up the constitution for his party, and later for the state. Maybe it also explains why Shabnam Lone, daughter of slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone, quietly made way for her brothers to take over their father’s mantle even though her political acumen is well established.
amount of work ‘non-workers’ do
THE invisibility of the work done by a vast majority of women across the world, particularly in developing countries like India is an issue that is repeatedly being swept under the carpet. For the last about two decades important international forums have been demanding that "unpaid contributions of women to all aspects and sectors of development should be recognised. National accounts should measure the unpaid contribution of women to household activities" (UN General Assembly Resolution November 6, 1985).
No emphasis would be excess if it were focussing on the time and effort a vast majority of women in developing countries spend in what is broadly termed as ‘household activity’. Amazingly the work women do as mothers, wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, with the profound obligation and responsibility to look after others, theoretically stands defined as ‘non-economic’ activity, even though we all know there would be no economy if women were not to perform such ‘uneconomic’ roles.
Policy-planning bureaucrats have, of late, been proudly making a mountain out of a mole-hill by claiming that female employment graphs are showing a growth — however imaginative it may be. They obviously and conveniently ignore that this so-called additional employment or work participation (as it is termed) is only in addition to the work women are doing at home. The women who are stepping out of homes to supplement family incomes are doing so by working ‘double days’. While society recognises their role in the conventional economy, women stand hidden and unacknowledged in what is termed by Elson (1995) as the ‘economy of care’.
A World Bank Report categorically states: "Although women work fewer hours on average in market activities than men, this difference is more than offset by their greater hours of efforts in household activities. In almost every country women are responsible for a disproportionate share of work within the household". Thus we have a situation where women navigate between two spheres regarding their labour in each, yet in only one of them are women counted as productive.
The basic issue thus is how and why is it women’s household contribution has come to be understood as economically unproductive? A clear historical process can be noticed wherein women’s household work has been projected by lawmakers of the society over the ages as a moral responsibility rather than as an economic activity. This flawed interpretation has grossly devalued the process of social reproduction and household economy even though there is little doubt that it is women’s contribution in the home that really provides the support system for the entire paid economy. But this is only a small element of the monumental irony with which women looking exclusively after household stand confronted.
Let us look at it from another angle. The hollowness of the Census approach stands exposed by the simple fact that even making cow dung fuel is actually an economic exercise. The same perception applies to fetching water. When a woman in say a water-starved area like Rewari walks a couple of kilometers to fetch water is she not, in fact, contributing to the economy by doing what is actually the government’s responsibility.
When a woman cooks and plans her meals or makes an optimum use of limited resources, is she not in fact contributing to the GNP of the country? The very elementary exercise of breast feeding a child is also a profound economic activity just like keeping the family healthy and free of disease. To ensure the good health of the family a woman has to first keep a clean home, cook clean and nutritious food, ensure clean clothes. A healthy citizen in fact is the most important parameter of the state.
The householding women and her immensely important but invisible contribution to the paid economy are comparable to the nutrients of the soil into which the farmer confidently plants his ‘seed’. The nutrients are not visible yet the success or failure of the crop and in turn of the farmer depends entirely on the contribution of the nutrients. Ignoring the contribution of householding women and terming them as non-workers is like the farm and agricultural scientist ignoring the quality of the soil and the role of important nutrients.
That over 70 per cent of the world’s poor are woman is not surprising. The figure is marginally less than the percentage of women who have been termed as ‘non-working’. But few really realise the limitations on the mobility and time available to householding women for income generation because of the dual burden of their productive and reproductive roles. Many income-generating projects aimed at women fail because women are already over committed. The ironic paradox is that over commitment of women is perceived to be ‘non-working’.
Therefore it is also not surprising
to know that less than 1per cent of the world’s private property is
in the name of women. Given this status of ‘non-workers’ a
majority of women in the world are assetless and in the household are
considered as ‘consumers’ while the men are the ‘producers’.
I feel strongly about...
THE urban, educated Indian woman of today, exposed to the western concept of emancipation, seems to be a little confused about her role in family and society. She has shed the image of a traditional sacrificing person and taken up the mantle of an independent and assertive woman. However, the role of the new woman is not always for the welfare of others but for her own selfish ends. If a woman is friend of woman, she can also be the biggest enemy of her own species. In the 21st century, our society is still faced with the evils of dowry and bride-burning which we all need to fight with determination. Daily we come across many cases of dowry harassment.
But there is another side to the story. Many of such cases if studied closely, are not authentic. As all mothers-in-law are not wicked, all daughters-in-law are also not virtuous. Many of the younger women, either to settle the scores with their husbands or in-laws, or driven by their selfish motives of greed, falsely accuse their in-laws of making dowry demands. It is sad that some journalists report the stories of so called ‘dowry victims’ and tarnish the good name of reputed families without taking the trouble of finding the truth. One wonders how a woman who can go against her parents’ wishes to marry a man of her choice, who is educated, career-minded, ambitious, drives her own vehicle, travels alone, goes to beauty parlours etc., complains of torture at the hands of her in-laws. We do not have to stretch our imagination too far to understand the truth behind these ‘allegations’. Where is the compulsion to live with her tormentors and wait for the time to be burnt alive? She is anything but a weak and suffering victim.
The tormentor is not always the mother-in-law, but also the daughter-in-law. She exploits her old dependent mother-in-law to babysit for her children, to do all the household work and treats her like a doormat. Still more dangerous is the woman whose husband also joins her in greed and selfishness; and harasses the old mother to give away everything. They would even go to the extent of dragging the helpless widowed mother to the court. Not stopping there, they defame her by making up stories of torture for dowry. The other day when I had gone for my morning walk I came across an old, sad and tired-looking woman sitting on a stone on the footpath, lost in her thoughts. As she appeared quite unwell, I asked her if she needed any help. At first, the proud woman refused, but something in her eyes stopped me from going further and I sat with her. On being asked again she broke down and narrated her tale of woes. She was a widow of a respectable well-placed person. With their life’s savings she built a small house. But her wealthy and influential son and his wife were harassing, torturing and blackmailing her in every possible way to take away her only shelter. They had the cheek to accuse her of burning the daughter-in-law!
Such things are happening in many families. In cases of ‘dowry deaths’ or ‘dowry tortures’, the accounts of both sides should be verified. There are bills passed by the government to provide maintenance to dependent parents but it is not easy to run to the courts in old age. Many other steps are taken to help senior citizens but their own selfish and ungrateful children turn them out of their own house and leave them to fend for themselves. They cause endless misery and pain.
The modern daughter-in-law is ruthless, cruel and manipulative. She suffers no pangs of remorse. She misuses the weapon of "dowry harassment" to achieve her unscrupulous ends. Such a woman does more harm to womanhood than anybody else. She should be exposed and condemned. The purpose of this write-up is to highlight the plight of the mother-in-law who is a helpless victim in the hands of her daughter-in-law. In this whole game the major part of blame lies with the man, whether it is the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law who suffers, the son or the husband who has no courage to stand by his wife or mother, is responsible.