Pakistan-Indian women step up to prevent war

Since the Pulwama attack, Pakistan -India tensions are on the all-time high. Indian incursion and their alleged attack on Balakot , subsequent denial and retaliation by the Pakistani armed forces, capture and release of an Indian Pilot and Pakistan pulling out of OIC session has kept the tensions on a high spin for both countries.

As of now, there is heavy shelling going across the Line of Control by the Indian artillery resulting in at least 07 people reported dead, 36 injured and around 300 families displaced around Line of Control in Pakistan administered Azad Kashmir. Whereas, in the Indian Administered Kashmir, reports suggest dozens of Kashmiris have been threatened, assaulted or forced to vacate their residences since the Pulwama Attack. The death toll in the Indian Administered Kashmir over the last twelve months has been the highest since 2009. Associated Press reports highlight that almost 570 people have lost their lives, 260 of them militants, 160 civilians and 150 Indian armed personnel who died in the line of duty. Kashmiri people have long been the worst causality of the conflict.

There is no dearth of war mongering speeches on both sides of the border with Pakistan’s media and people showing surprisingly more restraint and calls for peace in comparison to the over the top Indian media who is in support of unbridled aggression.

What has come out as a really shocking discovery is war support from many prominent feminists from the Indian side of the border ranging from Barkha Dutt, Kangana Ranaut to Unicef ambassador Priyanka Chopra.

Peace and security mean different things to different parts of the population. For some it may mean an end to armed hostility and opportunities for formal government power. But for women and girls it may mean being able to walk down the street without being attacked or raped, and having access to legal redress when threatened or beaten behind closed doors

Feminism and war are two opposite concepts. Since war is mainly a patriarchal concept that aims at subjugation, power and control through destruction of generations. Historically, men exercise a hierarchical and vertical power of domination and superiority. Women get excluded by different social, political, ideological and cultural reasons. Hence, the major victims of any war are women and children. Current conflicts disproportionately affect women. It is conservatively estimated that 70 percent of those killed in today’s conflicts are civilians, many of them women and children, who become especially vulnerable when law and order break down.

Conflict is persistent between Pakistan and India and so is the misery of women on both sides. Since the hostilities that accompanied the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, there have been occasional bursts of peace efforts and then long periods of tension, diplomatic standoffs, three wars and various skirmishes along the border and Line of Control. All through, women have been affected the most. There are horrific stories of men raping and abducting women during Partition, and now, 71 years on, India and Pakistan are considered among the most dangerous countries in the world for women. India and Pakistan rank 131 and 147 respectively on the Gender Inequality Index because women lag behind in education, work and political participation.

Peace and security mean different things to different parts of the population. For some it may mean an end to armed hostility and opportunities for formal government power. But for women and girls it may mean being able to walk down the street without being attacked or raped, and having access to legal redress when threatened or beaten behind closed doors.

A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the past three decades has shown that when women’s groups were able to effectively influence a peace process, an agreement was almost always reached; only one case presented an exception. Women in countries like Rwanda, Liberia, Colombia have shown the world they can be amazing peace brokers and are pivotal in sustaining peace. Pakistani and Indian women can also step up to the job.

In current India-Pakistan standoff, there have been some shining lights as well. The hashtag of #SayNotoWar on twitter started from Pakistan, and was trending in the whole world. Feminists from Pakistan and India issued a joint statement for peace.

However, need of the day is to make women’s voices of peace sound louder than the trumpets of war. Women can achieve the cause of peace by mobilizing on both sides of the border, forcing the war mongers to stop and talk to each other to resolve the Kashmir issue, to resolve the terrorism issue and to bring the people of Kashmir out of their misery. Power of women to stop violence is more than the power of violence itself. It is time that women of India and Pakistan use it.

The writer is the Cofounder Women4PeaceTech and a policy practitioner with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention

Published in Daily Times, March 7th 2019.

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