Posted by Aaqib Qayoom Wani
Gender equality is vital to economic production function and if one disregards its importance, the entire function stops working. Women play a remarkable role in driving world economies. Women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined. It would be inappropriate to ignore or underestimate the female consumer and female entrepreneur. If more women join the economy it is estimated that on an average, an economy can increase by 27%.
To ignore the fact that women are not under masculine hegemony is like the elephant in the room. What we need to acknowledge is that all is not well within the melting pot of our society. Women are given fewer opportunities to think for themselves and make themselves independent decision makers.
According to the World Bank’s World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development, closing gender gaps affects development and policymaking. Greater gender equality can enhance economic productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation and make institutions and policies more inclusive in nature and less hegemonic in representation.
The world is transforming into a gender-sensitive world, shaping new gender-sensitive policies. However, looking at the economic framework of Kashmir from a gender perspective, it can be said that patriarchy still plays an important role in shaping policies in Kashmir. Women still have a lesser role in framing policies to reclaim public spheres.
It would be inappropriate to ignore or underestimate the female consumer and female entrepreneur.
An increase in female labour force participation or reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour force results in catalyzing the economic growth. Women in Kashmir are still lagging behind as far as social security, equal opportunities, access to resources, distribution and economic rights are concerned. Kashmir needs innovative and egalitarian socio-economic system that exonerates women from economic patriarchy and leads to their empowerment.
Kashmir largely remains a patriarchal society where masculine hegemony can be ascertained from the reports of violence against women. The economic market reflects how men dominate the market and women are only assigned household chores. To some extent, this picture is changing but with less momentum. Such hegemonic and poisonous binaries need a serious deconstruction and a rationalistic endeavour to start re-thinking a gender-sensitive public sphere.
The dissemination of the ideology that women cannot enter the male-dominated economic sectors is being challenged nowadays. The dreams of men and women are overlapping. Women entrepreneurs from Kashmir have created inspiring stories amid conflict and uncertainty.
Conventionality is challenged by the actions of these women and they can no longer be ghettoized of their rights. The women of Kashmir have always been an active part of society. They have been sewing, embroidering, etc, but now they need to come into the economic mainstream in large numbers to shape an egalitarian economic market.
At present, around 15,000 female entrepreneurs are running their own business units in Kashmir. These women, despite conflict and unrest in the region, have managed to create inspiring stories. Kashmir is certainly not the easiest place to do business but these enthusiastic women are pushing the boundaries to actively participate and contribute to the public sphere.
Arifa Jan, a successful entrepreneur and owner of Incredible Kashmir Crafts has taken up this intimidating task of rejuvenating the dying craft of numdha which is a traditional embroidered rug. Arifa became the first-ever Kashmiri woman to be nominated by the US State Department for the Women Entrepreneurship Programme under which she was awarded the US Citizenship Eligibility Certificate. However, Arifa currently works from Kashmir and receives an international clientele.
Gazalla Amin, an agricultural entrepreneur runs an aromatic oil enterprise. She has been reviving the rich Kashmiri heritage through her agri-business for the past six years. Tabish Habib, a Srinagar-based entrepreneur and businesswomen is an unparallel case of a success story from Kashmir. Her company Prism Creationz provides branding, marketing and printing services in Kashmir. She also runs a venture ThinkPod Business Incubation which provides co-working office spaces at affordable prices to people working in tech and service startups.
She has been recently nominated for International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) which is one of the US Government’s most prestigious professional exchange programs. Nusrat Jahan Ara, the owner of Kashmir Essences, realized the valley’s potential for floral business and eventually became the first female entrepreneur in the floriculture sector of the valley.
Although female representation in the economic market is gradually increasing as compared to the past, that does not change their fate in the kitchen. The sexual division of labour inside a family is almost the same as it was before. Men can easily choose family and career but women cannot juggle between the two without being doubted at every aspect.
As a man, you are always expected to work and be outdoors, while women must be ’emancipated’ and ‘liberated’ to do the same. Such gendered perceptions of women’s roles in society have led to stereotypes such as “women are more risk-averse than men” or “are less competitive and productive than men” in the economic sphere. These clichés have proved venomous for our society and consequently deepened the vicious cycle of economic exclusion of women.
At present, around 15,000 female entrepreneurs are running their own business units in Kashmir.
Conflict in Kashmir catalyses the process of downsizing the role of women in the economic sector. History in the time capsules of Kashmir is being written with blood. The conflict acts as a double-edged sword towards economic development and creating economic opportunities.
However, men still ‘rule the roost’. They still manage to have a say in the overall economic sphere, amid conflict and unrest. Women, on the other hand, witness double marginalization. The hard fact is that conflict in Kashmir is unequivocally witnessed by men and women but the latter continues to be entangled in the ‘economic slavery’ structure.
Women need to enter every section of society to bolster the progress of economic growth. The moot point is that empowerment is not only a task of reconstructing gender subordination and the disintegration of patriarchal structures but it also incorporates economic empowerment and economic justice, both key to the realization of women’s autonomy over their own lives.
Women in Kashmir have the potential to make an impact in the economic order of our society as well, if they succeed to gain a voice in the echoes of masculinity, have equal control over economic resources and participate in economic decision-making at all levels. The democratization of economic spaces will go a long way in catalyzing women empowerment in Kashmir.
Aaqib Qayoom Wani studies Economics at Delhi University. His area of interest lies in intersectionality of gender and economics. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed on Facebook.
Featured Image Credit: Jaypore