Women

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A WOMAN LAWYER IN KASHMIR?

Guest post by Ayshia Zahgeer*

Is it only our biological destiny to exist and then one fine day to not, that deserves depiction on our epitaphs, that don’t bear our names, most of the times? Born as someone’s daughter and die as someone’s wife.

What about our survival stories? Where must they be recorded?

Browbeaten and predictably spoken about, as many would like to believe, women and their survival stories in personal and professional space, bookended by culturally accepted norms, if reality is anything to go by, can never be browbeaten enough.

Law, as a profession for women, was and is not still considered as naturally suited to our abilities. Reasons bordering patriarchal protectionism myths , that women need to be “protected” from the rigors and dangers that the practice entails, and majorly for not being considered cerebrally capable, assuming , that aggression and tenacity is what this profession demands, and also simultaneously considering them contrary to a woman’s  virtues. Both notions misplaced and informed only by a false sense of entitlement.

Not considered a “dignified profession for women”, the discouragements a female law student faces, begin from passive suggestions in classrooms of law practice not meant for women, to the struggle of finding a safe place to start our careers. Once graduated and faced with a myriad difficulties and quandaries as to our next right step ahead, even if some of us decide to go against the tide and start with the practice gender biases and extreme patriarchal encounters run through our everyday professional experiences, and all this while we are looking for ways to navigate social and familial pressures to simply do our jobs.  Decision to practice law in Kashmir , is particularly met with scoff and scorn and at  this stage it is an equal response both the genders get , however what compounds this, is when such a desire is expressed by a female, these range from various suggestions bordering ridicule to friendly advices only meaning to demoralize you.

My brief experience of 2 years in the court so far, has comparably been smooth the one I often rave about to friends and relatives, I do not think I could have had it any other way. I always start on that note, whenever I sit to discuss about it, because I have personally never alluded to the alluring idea of ungratefulness. I loathe the very basis of looking at the negative side of any situation. When I say this, I am quickly but consciously reminded of my privilege of never having to worry about looking for a senior, because I knew I had to start practicing with my father, never worried about being rebuked, reprimanded, although I have had my share of it, never had to worry about having to manage a ride back home, or how much I make for a day, although I went days without making anything, and whether all the days slog is worth it. All of this and more does not qualify me to speak about the struggle part of this extremely stressful profession. However, the obviousness of discriminatory practices against women lawyers in the court exist within and beyond privileges. I worked hard and sat on the files for hours without sleep, but all of that is self-serving. It doesn’t take away from my easy start and only goes on to amplify one fact that if all women feel secure, safe and are remunerated proportionally for their hard work, than sky really is the only limit, but there is a reason we speak about the glass ceiling visible only to us, that weighs our wings down, and I think a conversation around it, against it in the legal profession is long overdue. 

Going back in time, say close to a decade or more, and presence of women lawyers in the courts in the valley was scanty in Srinagar, and almost nonexistent outside of it. However, today, we have more women choosing to practice law than ever before, and it is heartening, how most of them make it on their own and how far, with all the difficulties that mar their journey. One reason for increase in the numbers is also that fact that the number of female and male law graduates across India, have almost equaled over a decade, which should have ideally translate into more women coming into the practice and more climbing up the latter, i.e., designated as senior advocates, the reality however couldn’t be further from this.

To Begin with the task of finding a senior lawyer to work with, poses one of the biggest challenges and this is where I have known many female law graduates give up. The challenges are two fold, personal safety /comfort and professional growth. In addition, more often than not one becomes a casualty for the other. A handful only   are lucky to find both , thereafter everyday experiences often run counter to the ideas of a professional life one had harbored. Institutionally women are not unwelcome in the courts, and a lot of those who practice will vouch for the regard they often receive from the Judges and also well-meaning lawyers and clientele, but pervasively, there is constant othering. Not only do women lawyers have to work twice as hard to ‘prove’ their worth , but law practice , metaphorically as much as physically/mentally , is an over hurried profession , and by the time , various obstacles are overcome , one misses out on work and recognition.

Women lawyers working in Kashmir, particularly face stereotyping in the kind of briefs they get. Therefore, mostly they are entrusted with family matters, and rarely anything to do with other civil and criminal matters. This despite them being on an equal footing of merit and experience as that of their male counterparts, they will not be preferred for those matters, in the first place. Two factors that play a very important role in success of any lawyer are ‘networking and self-promotion’, and there is no way that any woman lawyer can afford to do both, without it costing her reputation. It is a tightrope walk to appear sturdy, and avert constant pontificating on character and reputation. We just cannot afford to ride roughshod.

Every single day, is a struggle in trying to find a balance between not being too assertive and strident, and not too soft and docile, in the former case, we are not well mannered and discourteous and in the latter under confident and do not have it to be successful. Going back in times, say close to a decade or so, women’s presence in the courts in the valley was few and far between, while some of them made their way up the ladder, at a time and in an environment determined to push them out of the cadre, some simply couldn’t find a harmonious balance between and work and life, and ultimately quit. (A study by the associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, showed that about a quarter of women do not return to work after childbirth)

Here I try to sum up various accounts narrated to me by women lawyers of their day-to-day experiences in the court. What makes up their perspective of being a woman lawyer and what does the idea of practicing law entail in personal and professional life. With most of them requesting a name change for the narration.

  1. Advocate Mysa (named changed)  has been in law practice for close to 2 years and mainly in the Srinagar Dist. court and High Court as well. She says ‘It’s hard for women in litigation as they have to face, lawyers, judges, clients most of who are male”  She also says because there are very few female senior lawyers, there isn’t much choice left other than to work with senior male lawyers and the experience isn’t always “pleasant”. From manipulation to having to face ire and discomfort. She believes to be able to feel safe and secure; you must know or have someone from your family work in the court.
  2. Advocate Barin (Name changed) has this to say ‘after completing law degree when a lady lawyers enters into the court she faces multitude of obstacles”. She enumerates such obstacles as work load, which is disproportional to what you get paid for with under or no appreciation from the senior, Dealing with mostly male clients and colleagues can be difficult and Workplace harassment. However, she highlights the positives of being a women lawyer as awareness of ones rights, sense of independence, exposure and assertiveness, and of being able to help to women in distress.
  3. Advocate Qurat-ul-ain, started her practice close to 5 years back and describes her experience as ‘having been through hell and heaven at the same time, worst part about the experience she believes is facing judgments and labels. However, she remained undeterred and did not let any discouragement dampen her spirits. She also there is a huge scope for women lawyers in Kashmir, and staying strong is the only way forward.
  4. Advocate Subreen Malik , ‘Good Women don’t choose law’, an oft-heard statement is an offshoot of patriarchy and Law profession is not immune from it” She joined the Bar in the year 2012, when she describes women’s presence in the court as “marginal”. She describes her early experience in the court as somewhat uncomfortable given constant glare we are under, she also highlights income disparity, of how male and female young lawyers are paid differently, and women lawyers made conscious of any equal treatment they might receive. Sometimes the burden of work and other responsibilities weigh down women and it tells upon their work. She practices independently today and has many women related cases registered with her and is often appalled at how there is no institution in place to address systemic oppression women face. She also runs an organization by the name ‘Mehram: Women’s cell Kashmir”, that works for women in distress.  
  5. Advocate Fatima (name changed) is not a First generation lawyer from her family. She comes from a known legal background. She opines ‘If one is focused on work, one gets respect and recognition’, She also goes on to say that as someone from a known legal background she started on her own, without letting her identity get in the way of her work. She believes apart from a few instances of over hearing, court staff comment on young female lawyers, she has not come across any other such instance. She says while still new in practice she got to hear questions like ‘Where is your senior? , While presenting her case and she did not think of it as a pointed question because of her gender. She says respecting every single individual in the court will in turn get one respect and support from all quarters. She however does add a note of caution and says this might not be true for all women advocates and they may not experience same helping atmosphere despite being brilliant at what they do.
  6. Advocate Zahra (Name changed)  as a young lawyer practicing in one of the district courts in North Kashmir ,  describes her journey of 2 years in law practice as good yet full of odds. The picture she paints is quite dismal and disappointing. She says that not only have less than 10 woman advocates been able to ‘survive’ in the district court where she practices. She also says she has faced constant threats of not “being allowed to practice’ by the members of bar, if she continued to speak against the lack of basic facilities such as proper washroom and sitting arrangements for woman advocates. She adds ‘library and chambers nowhere exist for lady advocates’, ‘Complaining would mean expulsion from the court’. She says ‘However there are some Hon’ble Judges and some senior members of the Bar , who guided and motivated me, and helped me through tough times”
  7. Advocate Sadia (Name changed)  started her law practice on a positive note in another district court in North Kashmir , However she speaks about constant judgments and scrutiny of character in court premises , and lays emphasis on the absence of ‘fair Wages’ , not paid proportionally to work and lack of basic facilities such as washroom, library and furniture for female lawyers. She speaks about an uncomfortable atmosphere at work. ‘We can’t walk, talk or work freely” .and that the atmosphere in the court is only representative of what women face in the society.
  8. Advocate Ulf at Jan, practice in District Court Anantanag, from her experience she says she been respected and her work acknowledged from well-meaning members of the Bar and clients. She says she has been appreciated and encouraged by Judges and some lawyers alike. However, that was not the case in the beginning and she did face mocking and was not taken seriously. She was successful in securing bail in one of the considerably difficult matter, while receiving appreciation from the presiding officer and some lawyers, she faced scrutiny and questioning from members of the bar and she also goes on to say that despite hard work, a woman will always face such problems.

Are the experiences of Young Kashmiri women lawyers practicing outside state any different?   

Speaking on this is Advocate Hafsa, who graduated from University of Kashmir and went on to practice in Delhi. While her decision of working outside was met with stigma back home. She says ‘working in Delhi as a lawyer is not easy the work culture in completely different in comparison to what we know or have seen growing up back home, this includes working crazy hours and getting paid peanuts, yet it didn’t crush my desire to excel in the field even though, I am a first generation lawyer from my family” She considers herself fortunate for having worked in the chamber of two most competent lawyers who never discriminated against her in any respect. However her unpleasant experiences mostly are either from the court premises of the Delhi High Court or other District Court, where she says her Hijab was met with uncomfortable glances and she  also had to face ‘terrorist jibes’ cast at her within court premises, Post Plame incident. She also recalls an incident of objectification, based on her skin colour. Therefore, she sums up “struggles for us working outside our twofold, constantly targeted for our identity as Kashmiri by the locals, and subjected to slander based on gender by our own”

Another Kashmiri lawyer Advocate Mariyah Mukhtar having briefly worked in Delhi expresses her satisfaction at the overall environment, work and otherwise. She believes her skills were honed by working under a very committed lawyer in Delhi, and that even in her brief experience she got an opportunity to present cases in the court. She believes other than ideological differences, positives of working in Delhi override the negative. She also speaks about being objectification, which according to her did cause her anxiety.

As is evident from varying accounts of women lawyers working across the valley and a few of them outside, there is a marked homogeneity in the pattern of struggles.

Our state given its unique Geo-political realities, a protracted conflict has had an adverse impact on various aspects of legal profession as well. While we have our share of concerns, some of which are spoken and some remain unspoken, in a profession that valorizes thick skin and sees courtesy as weaknesses, what must not be lost sight of, are hardworking, dedicated and feisty women lawyers who wear their resilience as their armor, spread across the lengths and breaths of valley. All of which also go on to show that we have some genuine allies across the gender divide.

 There shouldn’t really be a barometer of Gendered Presence in courts or for that matter any workplace, or for one gender having to rely on magnanimity of the other for safety, but unfortunately there still is, and because one gender’s presence in places of work, still needs to be discussed or even mentioned, the fact that there is an intuitive sense of insecurity and incidents of harassment, that are real and nor imagined, goes on to show that we are not yet geared to accommodate gender Diversity at places of work.   Few, but not enough people are willing to accept this reality.

Law practice is inherently demanding and stressful, and all of us happily and  willing pay that ‘mental tax, because we so dearly love our work and it doesn’t have to stop being that, we however need to reflect on normalizing one gender being permanently ‘othered’. Nothing other than merit and competence must be the indicators of any hierarchy at work.

Women’s presence in law courts presents a unique opportunity to correct the historic disequilibrium that exists in the representative character of our society.  A valve through which, while not compromising on  professional competency, rehumanization of what is today more  than ever before seen as an unresponsive institution, can be attained.

*Ayshia Zahgeer is a law graduate from university of Kashmir and practices in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.

Ayshia Zahgeer

COVID-19 and Quarantine

CHADARI

Guest post by Hasina Ghafoori*

‘I know that if I am infected, I could infect more than one thousand people. Why, why are we not helping our health sector? Why don’t we care about our health, our family’s health and our society? These are the questions I want to ask all of those who are making excuses to break this lockdown.’

Read Hasina’s full story about how she spends her lockdown and what beneficial habits she has developed at chadariproject.com/2020/07/26/covid-19-and-quarantine/

#Chadari #ChadariCOVID19Story #ChadariProject #AfghanWomen

*Hasina Ghafoori is a 25 years old girl from Kabul. She graduated from literature faculty of Kabul university and currently working for Swedish Committee for Afghanistan as HR Officer.

Afghanistan fails to accord human rights to women a Guest Post by Atifa Amiri

Basically, women’s rights are the most ethical concern that has a lot of history and is also ringed by historical moral theories.images

  • For example, Aristotle (384 B.C to 322 B.C) believed that women were fit only to be subject of men and they are born to be ruled in a constitutional sense, as citizens rule other citizens.
  • He also mentioned in his book “POLITICS”: the salve is wholly lacking the deliberative element, the female has it but it lacks authority.
  • But Kant (1724-1804) on his moral works clarifies that all citizen including the women have the rights and should be encouraged to attempt towards an active condition.

Women’s rights in Afghanistan

The implication of human rights, especially Women’s rights is more complicated in Afghanistan than any definition by the ancient Greek and German, philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche and many more.

Under the Taliban’s regime, women experience indescribably worse conditions and were deprived of their basic rights and had no access to any facilities for better development but, women were given only the most primary access to health care and medical. But even had not freedom of decisions-making and still somehow.

For example, the Burqa is, in fact, a cloth prison that incarcerates not only as a psychological, but also and physical burden on some Afghan women. It was forced by the Taliban, and is another violence that took freedom of choice from women in terms of their lifestyle.

Recognition of women’s rights should be birthrights and fundamental rights everywhere.  However, in Afghanistan,  addressing women’s rights is more challenging thanin the private sphere, because of the customs and the traditions that most of the people follow. In Afghanistan in a huge extent, women have been discriminated against and are struggling every day of their lives.

Challenges:

There are many challenges in addressing the issues of women’s rights in Afghanistan. The three decades of civil war ruined all sectors in Afghanistan which damaged the most but especially the schools and educations center ruined and burnt in different parts of the country.

Education:

  • Literacy, although literacy measures are very high between both males and females in Afghanistan but there are more challenges in women’s primary education. However, annually, in Afghanistan, millions and billions are being spent on the development projects and humanitarian aids and educations is one of them that has very slow growth rates.
  • Lack of proper schools in so many provinces of Afghanistan and the quality of contents and textbooks are opprobriously bad, lack of science lab supplies, regularity of teachers and so on these issues are something so general between both men and women but women are being force from family side to do not go to school which are the main issues.
  • In so many places in Afghanistan, still, women are not allowed to go outside. Many women empowerment projects have been donated by the western countries but have less results in outcomes.

Poverty:

  • Although the Afghan government provide a free educations for all but still due to poverty the poorer families are prefer their son’s educations to daughters.
  • Poverty caused the dismissal of women’s rights in terms of their educations also poverty is the root of all the problems. As Kofi Anan, seventh Secretary-General of United Nations, rightly said “extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.
  • The best policy to address women’s rights must be employment opportunities and networks for social services that support healthy families like, housing support, health care center, and child care.

Violence:

Violence against women is recognized as a major handicap to health and social development. Although this is a common concern in many geographical settings,  especially in the areas with a classic patriarchy. Women are facing challenges rights from their and fights against society at every point in time.

Violence against women in Afghanistan is so challenging, violence by the husband that is both physical and emotional like hitting, cheating, and violence by mother-in-law and other in-laws family is mostly physical violence. This a significant problem among the Afghan women in Afghanistan and I think is directly linked to poverty and economical problem.

Physical violence is one of the clearest and most serious forms of violence against women in Afghanistan and is not only limited to the aforementioned ways.  There other kinds of violence as well that its root can be sought in the culture, traditions and cultural practices like insulting women through harsh and abusive language. However, to a small extent, the prevalence of domestic violence decreased along with the increasing proportions of women to educations.

Women are considered as homemakers:

The other challenge that hinders Afghan women is that  are bound to remain within the framework of their home and the societal pressure demotivated them even before starting their path and most of Afghan men believes that women made to rise children and give birth to children.

Child marriage:

Basically child marriage is the violation of child rights and has a great negative impact on the health, growth, educational opportunities and mental development of a child.  Through child marriage, both girls and boys are suffering  strongly.

However on 9th April 2017, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Information launched a national action plan to annihilate early child marriage but, we could not get a serious result due to lack of implementation of the law is much more important than making the law. So human rights commission and ministry of women affairs must pay attention to the preventions of violence and implementations of the law.

So, in conclusion, the only solutions to get out from the current situation is educations and educated people.

A short commentary view on Afghan women situations   by Atifa Amiri, student of MA political science at JMI University New-Delhi.Picture1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her fear of falling

by Zakira Rasooli

 

Her fear of falling

She sighed and whispered silently, “May God help and protect the helpless and the struggling ones.”

I looked out the window to find any reason why she uttered these words.Picture1

Looking out of the car window, it appeared to me that I was really looking at a screen playing a movie on structural violence at that moment. A movie that evidently picturizes hunger, suppression, abuse, maltreatment, and the devastations of war.

I was heading home on public transport after spending my day doing field research. I was lost in my thoughts of the disheartening stories of working kids I had collected for my research project when the car door suddenly opened. The woman sitting beside me, who was closest to the door and would have fallen out, had I not held her back. In Afghanistan, drivers pack as many people as they can so they can earn more money per trip and without any consideration for the safety of their passengers.shuttlebus-157-orig

But little did I know that the unexpected opening of the door would present me with another painful, unwrapped story.

Coming back to the door, we realized that it was the driver’s assistant who had opened it to make sure it was latched properly. Nevertheless, it frightened the woman. Her fearful reaction to the opening of the door made the driver’s assistant and driver laugh. My mind hanged to processes. Men’s laughter at a woman’s fear of falling down reminded me of how women are constantly emotionally broken down in my country because of stupid gender rules. It made me contemplate the depths of my insights and discourse about men that were adversely influenced and shaped by the recent harassment cases that I had to struggle and deal with almost every day on the  way to my job. The stories of self-worth and damaging relationships of some female friends who had to compromise self-love and confidence. The narrated stories of women in Kandahar. Particularly, the recent story of a child marriage, in which the girl escaped and returned to her to her parents’ home only to be expelled by her parents and sent back to her husband’s house, later to be beaten and ill-treated  by him and her in-laws.violence-against-women-1468258151-3386

These all contributed to how the incident happening at the moment should have been processed and analyzed. For a while, I was struck by the irritating thoughts that perhaps these men who make the vulnerable go through sexual abuse and exploitation, marital rape, psychological abuse, femicide, slavery, and harassment to satisfy their desires, embody the worst demons in human form. Very well informed of the harm the acts cause, yet making women suffer as if their suffering is a source of pleasure and joy.

However, coming back from my male-bashing thoughts to the reality of the moment, I decided that I had enough of their laughter and the more time went on, the more unbearable it became. I knew I should interfere; I told the men that they should be sorry for their disgraceful behavior, but it was so disappointing that they kept making fun of how they scared the women with the sudden opening of the door. I sensed that my voice was filled with anger and a part of my sub- conscious mind reminded me of the norms of my suppressing culture that a woman must keep in mind while conversing with the opposite gender.

Nevertheless, I shut the conflict inside my head so that I could hear the woman. I noticed her talking to me and complaining about how her last few days had gone by.

She said, “I have been through worst these past few days, this is nothing compared to what I have experienced recently. It is okay, let them be.”

I asked if everything was alright with her. She was sobbing, couldn’t spare time to talk. Indeed, in a male-dominated society like ours, women expressing emotions through crying is considered guile by drama queens. Obviously, a woman having this in mind, wouldn’t cry. Yet, shading tears is the ultimate expression of deep emotional pain.  Having this realization in mind, I knew she was going through a very serious phase but I wondered what that could be. I asked if I could help her but she remained silent. After a while, she burst out that it was her husband.  He expelled her from their home.

This really concerned me about what she would do based on the fact that a lot of women are financially dependent on their husbands. That is why separation put the women in an impossible situation. However, I curiously asked if she had a job. She said she was a teacher and jumped into the topic of what her husband thinks of her as a teacher.

She asserted that “he tells me that I am a pimp”

She later asked me if a school was a place for pimping and pandering, desperately seeking my validation. She further explained how loyal she is to her husband and what treatment she gets in return.

Looking sad, she claimed, “I only have my husband’s number saved on my phone and except for him, no other man calls me anyway. It is that easy, if you set limits to how people treat you, you never get late-night calls from the opposite gender and you wouldn’t go on talking for hours and flirting with them through the phone.”images (1)

I wondered why she was telling me all this until she opened up that her husband got a call from his female colleague late at night, the previous night. He left for the other room and locked the door. He talked for hours with that girl.

“I wouldn’t mind it if it was a formal call and he wouldn’t have issues with me hearing their conversation. It bothered me the whole night but I didn’t dare to talk about it until the next morning when I finally spoke with him.” She said.

She asked the reason why he was doing this to her, but his response came in the form of a severe beating and also him throwing her out of the house. That is why, she was in the car heading to her only sister’s home with no clarity and many concerns about her future, especially now that she is considered a dishonored woman.

I reached my destination and dropped out of the car with many questions in mind. He is the one who breached the sacred bond of marriage, while she remained loyal. He lives free of all social constraints while she is bound to follow them. Yet, despite all this, it is her who was blamed, it was her who was beaten up and thrown out of the home, the one who broke rules of the sacred bond of marriage, not him, never him. Didn’t he have the reason to expel her from their home?

blame

Did he not have the reason to beat her up?

And did he not have the reason to kick her out of the house?

However, like many times before, I was struck by the fact of how flawed the marriage institutions were in my society. How it perfectly cages women while setting men free to break the rules. The destruction it has wrought on the society. Recalling similar stories I had known. Thinking about how each one of us knows of a story similar but preferring silence. Letting the destructions and sufferings keep winning over us as if both genders, by consent, desire to live this life of inequality, distress, and constant misery.

download

Zakira Rasooli is a human rights activist and writer. She is the co-founder of conflict transformation movement named Afghanistan Unites and  is a senior political science student at American University of Afghanistan.