Jennifer McKay Speech
Seminar at the sidelines of 39th Session of United Nations Human Rights Council Geneva
Titled “ Women Rights Advocacy in Conflicts.” Organized by International Muslim Women Union NGO with ECOSOC Status with United Nation and Kashmir Institute of International Relations.
Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen,
According to the World Bank, almost two billion people live in countries where development outcomes are affected by conflict, fragility, and violence. The people of Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir have been affected by conflict and fragility for 70 years. They continue to strive for peace and for the right of self-determination, to make decisions about their own future. But still their situation remains grim and there seems little hope of a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict any time soon, or the economic development and prosperity that should follow.
While all people suffer in such environments it is the women and children who are most affected. In Kashmir, many women have had to deal with impacts of being left to fend for themselves, facing enormous challenges without adequate means of support, when the male head of the household has been killed or been ‘disappeared’ in the conflict.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Report on Kashmir highlights the challenges for women, including numerous cases of sexual violence for which justice has not been served. From the horrific mass gang rape of at least 23 women in Kunan and Poshpora villages in 1991 by soldiers of the Indian Army, and the many cases since of sexual violence again women and girls, and also boys, there has been no justice.
The laws that provide impunity that protect the Indian Armed Forces from punishment for crimes against the local population, have created a climate of fear but also one of growing defiance by the women of the community. For too long, they have remained silent victims but lately, they have been taking a more public stand in the face of the increased brutality meted out by the occupying Indian Forces.
Many women are widowed or ‘half-widowed’ and, with no husband to support them, they struggle to meet the basic economic needs for the family survival. Without skills, without income, without the protection of male family members, for too many, life is about exploitation, harassment, sexual violence, poverty, and despair.
Without money and support, women are most affected by food insecurity, hunger, and poor nutrition for themselves and their children. Prolonged poor nutrition leads to stunting and a generation of young Kashmiris may grow up suffering the affects. Providing opportunities for micro entrepreneurship, for livelihoods both on and ‘off-farm’, and other means to allow women to provide for themselves and their families, is challenging.
With little or no government compensation available and government policies that prevent UN or NGOs access, and funding restrictions on aid, it is difficult to provide funding for projects that support women affected by this conflict.
Renewed efforts by activists to pursue the Kunan Poshpora case, and the horrific pellet-gun blindings of protestors, and other acts of state-sponsored violence by the Armed Forces, appear to have contributed to a growing determination amongst the women of Kashmir to take more of a role in demanding justice, and for peace and human security. Despite the cultural and other challenges, they are coming out of their homes to join the protests against the violence inflicted upon their communities by the Armed Forces. They are speaking out with courage and determination.
A recent interview on the BBC focused on the women fighting for justice for family members who have been ‘disappeared’, arrested by the Armed Forces and never seen again. The Disappeared are estimated to be more than 8,000 though the real total is not known and may be higher. The membership of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, formed in 1994, has grown in recent times, which is an indication of the problem. Women gather every week at a local park to protest the disappearance of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.
Their sadness is distressing. But, there is no relief in sight for them. Parveena Ahangar, whose teenage son, was taken by an army patrol in 1990, has searched for the 28 years since, said in the BBC interview that the women want the government to establish a formal commission to investigate the enforced disappearances, rather than seeking compensation for themselves. There is no doubt though, that compensation would help their survival. These women will never give up.
What we can do is also speak up for them wherever the opportunity presents itself. In whatever country. In whatever forum. Make representations to our own Governments to raise the issue at diplomatic levels. Write letters. Write blogs. Post on social media. Write opinion pieces in the mainstream media.
Foreign Governments must make more of an effort to ensure the Government of India allows participation by women from Kashmir in international events, forums, and United Nations gatherings like this one, ensure their passports and visas are not subject to political interference.
The situation of women in conflict has many similarities across the world. The local circumstances may be different but for those of us who can, we must reach out wherever we can to provide support and practical solutions.
Let us not be sitting here in Geneva in a year and have no achievements to discuss, no positive case studies, nothing to say but what we have been saying for so long. Let us be here with results. Not only for the women of Kashmir, but also for women everywhere who are affected by conflict.
For the women of Kashmir who cannot be here to speak for yourselves, we will not let your plight be forgotten at home, at the United Nations, or in the international arena. Your participation in finding the pathways to peace is imperative. We must ensure that happens.
We raise our voices for you and your families and stand with you, and all women across the world trapped in the horror of conflict and extreme brutality. We honour your courage and support your struggle for freedom and for peace.