Kashmir is a region that lies on the border of India and Pakistan and has experienced conflict since 1947 when the Indian subcontinent became partitioned. Because neither India nor Pakistan control the region, those who live there rarely receive protection from either state. The consequences of this are devastating, particularly for women. A women’s market in Kashmir is helping empower women, though.
In Kashmir, people frequently exclude women from economic participation. Many of them have to stay home and can often only travel if a man accompanies them. Concerns about women’s safety in the workplace, coupled with the strict patriarchal attitudes common in the area make it incredibly difficult for women to find work in the private sector. Because of this, they make up less than 20 percent of Kashmir’s workforce. This lack of access to employment opportunities makes it nearly impossible for widows, divorcees and victims of domestic abuse to provide for themselves and their families.
As the conflict continues in Kashmir, more and more women are becoming widowed, leaving them alone to fend for themselves and their children without the skills or rights necessary to earn a living wage. Remarkably, a handful of women in Rawalakot, Kashmir is changing all of that. Pakistan currently controls their village, which is a country in which four of every 10 people are impoverished, and has become a beacon of light for women everywhere. Here are five facts about the women-centered market in Rawalakot, and how it has impacted the lives of women in the region.
Five Facts About Women’s Market in Kashmir
- The social worker, Nusrat Yousef, founded the market in 2011 after becoming widowed, as a way to empower victims of domestic violence and provide them with economic stability. This has given individuals like Sara Rasheed, who runs both a garment shop and a beauty parlor within the marketplace, opportunities she would not have had otherwise, as her family does not allow her to work in male-dominated areas.
- The marketplace has ties to the Pearl Rural Support Programme, a non-governmental organization that works to help people in rural areas of Pakistan realize their full potential. The organization currently serves over 48 million people.
- It is not only a market place; women can also learn skills to help them with career and entrepreneurial goals. The market offers classes in sewing and training for women to become beauticians, opening the door to a life of independence for women who would otherwise live their lives entirely dependent on male relatives.
- Playing on the fact that many women in Kashmir cannot travel to public spaces without a male guardian, the market does not permit men to enter without a female companion. Having this women-centered environment allows attendees to talk openly about the struggles that women in Kashmir face, and work together to find solutions to these problems.
- The market has provided women with a strong community that they have mobilized to fight against oppression. They recently stepped in when police failed to take action against a man who had cut his wife’s nose off and pressured law enforcement to take action. They have also helped women get alimony from their ex-husbands in order to support their families.
Ultimately, this market has had an amazing impact on the women who have already discovered it and has the potential to reach over 100 thousand women in the area as the market it grows. It has given these Kashmir women independence, community and power. In a place where violence against women is the norm, one cannot understate the importance of that.
– Gillian Buckley