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Exploring the darkness to empower a big change!

Aliya Bashir

After looking for work for several months, with not much luck, I was excited to receive a phone call inviting me to an interview at a local media house. I was so excited – this was a place I had wanted to work at for a long time, and given the unemployment situation in Kashmir, this was big! In the back of my mind, I had already started weaving dreams to work there, and the idea of this gave me a new lease on life.
The conflict in Kashmir over the past two decades has affected women the worst, either by displacing them from their livelihood or rendering them jobless. The problem of unemployment is chronic in general among educated women. They are often not in the position to easily enter the local job market after the completion of their degrees, and are less able to move away from their families because of family obligations and security reasons.
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) calculates that the unemployment rate for urban females is 11.7 percent, compared to men, which is 6.7 percent for the state. According to Abdul Gani Malik, Minister for Labour and Employment, until December 2011, 599,000 people are registered employment exchanges across the state. “There are 25 to 30 percent women in the overall figure,” he informed.
That night, I slept restlessly, feeling hopeful, nervous and excited. I woke up early in the morning, committed to take advantage of this opportunity to the fullest. I assembled my curriculum vitae, by-lines and certificates in one of my favourite black coloured portfolio files, and headed off.
When I entered the office there was complete silence in the room. I enquired to the receptionist about other applications for the same job, but he told me he was unaware of any, nor had anyone come into the office to apply. This surprised me, but I was euphoric to be the lone applicant as I assumed that I would therefore be selected for the position. This meant a lot for me – to be a journalist in Kashmir was, in my mind, such an important job. Because Kashmir is so patriarchal, hearing the voices of women in media is crucial to enhancing our vision, knowledge, skills, expertise and innovation. If I could contribute to this, I believed it would be a panacea to the ills of our society, and also show women the choices available to them.
As I entered the room I greeted the person sitting inside the room and he asked me to sit. He apologized for keeping me waiting for so long. I reached into my hand-made decorated jhola (bag) to get my portfolio, and when I tried to show it to him, he said “No, no, you don’t need to show all this. It is just a formality. We trust your calibre.”
I was not only nervous, but surprised. I tried to tell him about some of my unique work experience – but again, he stopped me. His body language made it evident that he wasn’t interested – and then he asked me questions I was not expecting – who was my family, what do they do, and what did I want to do in the future. I didn’t know what to say, and was taken aback by these questions, as they were personal, not professional, and in a conservative place like Kashmir, this was neither common, nor generally accepted. I tried to change the topic, and to talk more about the work, but with little luck. As he offered me tea, he put on the TV and began explaining the work culture of his office. I nodded, still uncomfortable, and tried to avoid his eye. I was then shocked when I glanced at the TV – he was watching the footage of the news room, where only women staff was working. I was so surprised, and asked him, without even thinking, if his staff were aware of the CCTV that was taping them. His reply surprised me even more, “Our women staff are so hardworking. We monitor all their activities throughout the day. And surprisingly, they didn’t know about it.”
His words reverberated in the plush room and it chilled me to the bone. I was not sure whether I would be offered the job or not, but I had made up my mind that I would not accept it – I could not work in an environment where the quality of the work was not valued, so much as who was doing the work. I was so disappointed, but also so angry, and quickly made up an excuse to leave, promising never to return, even if it meant unemployment.
In Kashmir, women are mostly employed as teachers, but are increasingly entering into the IT, banking and other corporate sectors. While women in the past have stayed at home, more and more are working alongside men. “Conflict has a major role in the need for employment of women. Things are so uncertain. Everyone wants to be prepared. No family can depend on the earning of single working individual. There has to have a second line of support system for a family in Kashmir,” says an expert wishing not to be named. “Women are doing that.” The stereotypes of Kashmiri women, fair-skinned with blue eyes, homely and shy, have been replaced by the ongoing conflict. Women are stepping out of their traditional roles, coming to the forefront and lifting their veils.
Several days later the man who interview me called, but I didn’t answer, nor did I ever step foot in that office again. I also tried to warn fellow female journalists about this man and his office. The reactions that I got from my family and friends were sympathetic – but almost everyone I knew had had this kind of experience, but most preferred not to discuss it, trying mostly to avoid the topic and these kinds of situations. It was understood that it was acceptable to talk about only if the harm became tangible.
After this horrible experience, I made up my mind that there should be no compromise to offensive acts like this. The honour of a female should be given the top most priority in any workplace without any discrimination. The sexual harassment of a female at work places cannot be justified and there is an urgency to make women aware about the exploitation that they may be susceptible to. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, such cases should be handled with extensive care keeping in view the dignity of a woman.
However, I strongly feel that the solution does not lie in silence and letting the issue simply rest. If we do that, we are not protecting ourselves, but blanketing the whole issue in which anyone among us can tomorrow become a victim.
In Kashmir, the status of harassment at workplaces has increased over the past years. But most women prefer to silently run away from such situations instead of lodging their protest. Generally speaking, they don’t raise their voices, due to the fear of being misunderstood or blamed for the offences committed against them. Others don’t speak up as they fear the stigmas attached to actually ensuring men are made responsible for their actions.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women (JKSCW) is a statutory body which has been set up to make recommendations and review laws on women in the state and, simultaneously, to act as a watchdog body to see if the policies or laws are being implemented, including the overall conditions of women in the state.
In its grievance cell, the commission can register a complaint against torture, harassment, re-marriage, and divorce, transfer of property to children, child support money enhancement, maintenance, desertion and cheating. After the complaint is registered the commission calls on other party and tries to settle the dispute and in many cases after the evaluation of the case from both parties, it takes up with the police authorities for remedial action, if found necessary.
“The harassment faced by women especially at workplaces and on streets is often extreme, including humiliation, loss of dignity, psychological (and sometimes physical) injury, and damage to professional reputation and career. Inevitably, the victims face a choice between their work and their self-esteem and between their jobs and their own safe,” says an official at JKSWC. “Women should come forward and register their grievances without any fear.” She says that we shouldn’t try to be polite out of the fear that the situation will escalate.
There is no accurate data available to get an idea about the rate of harassment like this, as very few cases are reported. In one police station in Kothi Bagh, located in one of the busiest streets of Lal Chowk in Srinagar, there had been just 40 reported cases of sexual harassment in the last five years. This is likely just a drop in the bucket, given the status of harassment.
The major hurdle for women to remain silent and not to speak out about situations like this at workplaces is the growing unemployment among highly qualified youth, especially young girls, who are somehow lured to work on low salaries due to limited job opportunities. The growing scarcity of jobs is pushing more and more women not to speak on these issues.
The Supreme Court of India has enacted laws and guidelines against sexual harassment, defined as,“ Any physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; or any physical, verbal or non-verbal sexual conduct leering, dirty jokes and comments about a person’s body.” It has been made mandatory for all businesses/corporations to have committees against sexual harassment and to punish the harasser. But, in a place like Kashmir, such guidelines and laws are rarely implemented.
Women must step up and say no – if they don’t, men will get the message that what they are doing is acceptable, or that they can instil a sense of fear into women making it possible to take advantage of them. This is even more so in a place like Kashmir, where conflict, unemployment and injustice are relevant.
“Being the highest militarised zone with ‘lawless’ laws and other security cover for the perpetrators who also indulge in such indecent acts in Kashmir, these molestations often go unreported for fear of reprisal and exposure to public shame,” says a women lawyer, asking to remain anonymous.
Harassment of any kind is underreported in Kashmir. The unwillingness to lodge a complaint stems from the fact that it is almost accepted that men have the right stare, talk in an illogical and unjustified manner, whistle or sing a suggestive songs to women.
As a solution I feel any unsolicited, unwelcome and unreciprocated behaviour should be opposed without silence or shyness. There should be mass awareness to educate boys and men to respect women and teach them to stop inappropriate behaviour. We should encourage young girls and women to share their stores of harassment and other abuses and increase public awareness about the problem. We need to enrol ourselves in self-defence classes to learn about the realistic tactics of protecting ourselves. Lastly, we need to know our legal rights, so that we can stand up to offenders.
Officials need to deal with these sensitive issues with much more seriousness and sympathy, so that more women will report offences. Policy makers also need to ensure speedy justice for victims and punishment for offenders so that the victims will be able to get justice and bring offenders to take responsibility.
Women do not need to confront men and imitate them. We have our own importance and role to play in bringing desirable changes in our society. We collectively need to respond on a societal level and not ignore these issues, as every group has an important and effective role to play. Our voices are powerful, and we will together ensure that women approach public places fearlessly.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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nasreenamina's picture

Hi dear, I loved it! You

Hi dear, I loved it! You showed us one of the consecuences of conflict. The most of people focus in what it happens in the high score moments of a conflict: fights, weapons, etc. But what happen in the meanwhile? we use to forget a conflictive zone is conflictive everyday not only when there are fights and these are in the news. The point you have chosen about how the conflict afect the daily life of women in such sensitive issue like job and career is very important in order to remind us the hghest cost of war, political problems, and conflicts are always on the back of women. Thank you very much for this important sight. Xoxo

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Celine's picture

Thank you dear sister for

Thank you dear sister for sharing your personal experience with us. Women really face different forms of harassment at various places, and yet some do not speak out. What a shame. You rightly pointed out that poverty or limited means of sustenance and stereotypes are mainly responsible for this silence.

We continue to speak out for change and at the same time encourage fellow women to speak out, no matter the situation. I think we need empowerment for women to be able to do this. Change makers we are, and agents of change, we stand as in our various environments.

Hugs,
Celine

Stella Paul's picture

Well done Aliya

Dear Aliya

Harassment at work place exists everywhere, yet is hardly spoken of. Often, when a girl speaks out, the axe falls on her, robbing her of the job. Yet, speaking out is important. Thanks for highlighting this.

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

usha kc's picture

It's great Aliya, loved

It's great Aliya, loved it.

Love

Apart from what what we see in the news, behind the scene the situation is tragic and horrific.And you have rightly put it,
that a conflictive zone is conflictive everyday. We are now trying to withstand the pressing situations and be positive under all circumstance. What we remember when we move out of our home is that it is never late than never before. :)

AB

Yes, sister we need to speak out and encourage our fellows to write about the un-reported issues as well as those victims who fear of reprisals. Everything belongs to us sister, we are the future. But we shouldn't forget our moral obligation and keep ethics in mind when we report without being sensationalized. Women is sensitive not weak. We shall overcome this one day, Inshallah.

AB

Harassment at work place exists everywhere, yet is hardly spoken of. Often, when a girl speaks out, the axe falls on her, robbing her of the job. Yet, speaking out is important. Thanks for highlighting this.
Lets take this oath today that we will speak out Inshallah come what may! there is no room to suffer. We shouldn't forget Justice delayed is justice denied.

AB

Aliya Bashir's picture

Usha@Thanx

Thanx sweets for the appreciation. These victims need encouragement.

AB

WILDKat's picture

Strength in Numbers

Aliya,

May you find strength in numbers as harassment becomes culturally unacceptable in your community.
I appreciate understanding from your own experience your successful means of dealing with what might have become an unacceptable working situation. You are sharing with many women of the power of choice. It is a wise decision to avoid that harassment.

Your excellent article teaches on many levels. Thanks for the strength in your argument.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

Aliya Bashir's picture

Thanx Kat for echoing my voice

When a women move out of the cocoon to create a niche for herself, she has to be very wise with her decisions and choice of work. I want my writing should encourage more and more women to speak out that will serve the purpose.
Stay in touch

AB

Karoline's picture

Thanks, Aliya, for sharing

Thanks, Aliya, for sharing your story so clearly - this is inspiring for the many women who have faced similar problems . . . .

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Global Issue

Thank you for sharing your story. Although Kashmir sounds like it deals with this issue on an extreme level, I am positive it is an issue experienced by women all over the world. I know of many instances where women have dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace, including myself. When the men who perpetrate harassment go unpunished, it sends a message to them and to our community that this sort of behavior is acceptable.

I would love to know more about how you dealt with this situation and the outcome--did you feel comfortable enough to make this a public issue? What was the reaction of the women in that media office when you told them?

Keep up the great work!

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Aliya Bashir's picture

Oh Yes Racheal. Undoubtedly

Oh Yes Racheal. Undoubtedly the harassment at workplaces is common worldwide. As you said the most harmful and negative consequence that it sends if not retaliated is it can snowball into a big mess or rape at larger canvass. So, we gotto be very careful while dealing with any untoward situation without being weak or scared. We should try to be courageous and powerful, after all we are powerful :)
Initially, I felt quite bad actually and very low, like trying to analyze what went wrong, why did that happen or was I fault and the likewise feelings, but when i talked with my friends , colleagues and especially some close persons in that office, I was shocked to hear that they even had more worst experience. The reason for their silence was primarily just of the unemployment reasons with very little options to work or even may be they were skeptical that they might have to face even more awkward situations at other places. so the reasons were actually were very disheartening.
What was the best feeling that came after the incident was i became more careful and responsible of my behavior,it rekindled the woman-power inside, that was the best part and I am hoping INSHALLAH to carry that along throughout my life as well as to aware other folks in my best possible ways. Awareness in this matter is very important and we should help each other to come out of any fear or harassment.
Thanx Racheal for your encouragement.

AB

Thanx Karoline Mam. I need consistent encouragement from you, it really does help me a lot. Cheers :)

AB

clarices's picture

Great Conviction and Clarity

Dear Aliya,

I read with great interest your informative piece on the plight of women in Kashmir and the fight for equal rights in the workplace and society. I admired your strong convictions and your determination to give voice to the challenges women still face in Kashmir.

Good job!

Clarice

Aliya Bashir's picture

Struggle

My dear Clarice. Thanx for the encouragement. The plight of women at my place is quite terrible, which I belief must be sometimes more or equivalent with other sisters all over the world. But, without getting weak and sensitive to face the suffering is a sin, so there is a dire need to stand up and show to our counterpart that women are the most powerful entity created by Almighty Allah. We shall overcome this and I am very hopeful that we will do that Inshallah.
Stay safe and be in touch.

AB

clarices's picture

Struggle

You are very courageous, Aliya! It takes a lot of caring and courage to face the issue women in your country are facing head on.

I share your hope that things will change and that women throughout the world will be treated with far greater respect and humanity.

Be safe!

Peace,
Clarice

Aliya Bashir's picture

THANX FOR THE LOVELY SHARE

YOUR SHARE IS A MORAL BOOST AND A REAL PUSH THAT WE ALL NEED. THANX DEAR FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT AND COMPASSION.

AB

Thais Moraes's picture

Excellent

Congratulations on your wonderful piece! It is indeed a very serious problem and I felt very moved by the way you described your experience.
This kind of social patterns will only change when challenged. Thank you for taking this first step!

Keep fighting for (y)our ideals!

Warmly,

Thais

Thaís Moraes

Thais thanx a ton for your kind words. I am touched. :). I totally agree with you that we need to challenge all those social patterns which don't suit us. The problem of harassment in Kashmir is on increase with more and more young women getting lured in this dangerous trap, reason of course, is growing un-employment. So, instead of thinking why this and that is there, we need to armed to fight for our rights and say it should be like this and that. we have to come up with problem solving solutions, instead of hollow sympathies.
Cheers and stay warm :)

AB

mrbeckbeck's picture

Speak out!

Yes, you've said it right here Aliya: women must speak out and let men know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable! We need to educate men and young boys how to be decent to women. And, slowly we'll build a culture of respect.

I like how you've tied together the issues of harassment and unemployment... people will put up with terrible work situations (danger, harassment, low-pay, etc.) when they feel there are no options. Thanks for this insightful piece and for sharing your personal story.

Kind regards,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Aliya Bashir's picture

Great to hear

Dear Scott it is really so wonderful to hear this acknowledgment for the counterpart. It gives a boost to think that we cannot generalize things, there are good people as well as. However, as you rightly said along with empowering women folk, we also have to educate men and young boys that how their approach can impact women at large,so they need to be quite careful to showcase their intentions in a decent matter, so that they don't send negative vibes and have control on their gender especially at workplaces so that women don't feel discouraging to work along with men.
Stay Blessed and rocking

AB

MaDube's picture

Dear Aliya

The issue of sexual harassment is one of the things that we as women need to continue fighting. It starts with a whistle then proceeds to a touch and next someone is getting raped. It is disturbing to see how men across the globe just think they can take liberties with women’s bodies. I am proud of you for standing up for yourself and thank you for sharing your personal experience. I especially like the recommendations that you make about perpetrators getting apprehended but as you say it is difficult to ensure such punishment because when we complain we get accused of overreacting. I wish there was a way of educating the youngsters to develop a different culture and I wish there was a way of isolating them from seeing the terrible behavior of the older generations, but unfortunately that is not possible. Thank you though for raising this very important issue.

Best,

MaDube

Dear Sisy,
The possibilities are all within us. All we need is to work on them, otherwise there i nothing in this world that can't be attained or done through our continuous efforts. We are here together for a bigger change so lets join hands to do our part what say?

AB

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