Ezabir Ali works with women across the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh on the Indian-administered side of Kashmir. As well as delivering workshops and speaking to groups of women on peacebuilding issues, she works to protect the rights of half-widows – women whose husbands have disappeared due to the conflict but have not been pronounced dead. She participated on a fellowship in 2012 on gender and peacebuilding.
The warmth and love that is showered on me at the end of each meeting with these women, who no-one has ever reached out to before, is beyond all that can be put into a report. That connection transcends all barriers and stays with you forever, and makes you realise you have to continue with this work. The fact that you have heard them and acknowledged their sufferings is something they really appreciate.
How has undertaking this fellowship impacted you personally?
As part of the fellowship, we went to Northern Ireland where we met a variety of people and saw the important role women have played in the negotiations and peacebuilding. It was very empowering for me to see what women can achieve. In Kashmir, so many years since the introduction of UNSCR 1325 – which focuses specifically on women in conflict – things on the ground remain the same. Women’s participation and role as peacebuilders is not recognised and so there are very few women peacebuilders. I have been working for women’s empowerment for two decades, so for me to see it practically working in another place was encouraging and helped me to believe it can happen. It was very important for me personally to have the opportunity to meet women who have been part of negotiations and the peace treaty.
What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?
A conflict transformation workshop we attended helped us to recognise the different stakeholders who have a role in peace, not just women. It helped me to rethink the situation in Kashmir and made me realise that in a conflict situation, everyone has a stake in peace and you need to consider people’s different experiences, aspirations and roles. I also learnt that community mobilisation is an important tool in peacebuilding. By having contact with networks, the voices of women become stronger. I hope that by doing this work, our voices for peace will become louder.
From the visit I got to see how even in contexts where women do play a role, they are only involved up to a certain point, then that’s it – there are limits. In Northern Ireland, for example, women were involved but men still dominated.
How have you applied what you learnt to your work?
What I learnt has been helpful for my work, particularly with the half-widows. Taking these women, these ‘invisible actors’ on board and explaining what I am doing and being able to help them was rewarding. Despite the fact I encountered many challenges with this work, I achieved my goal of reducing the amount of time they have to wait before they are allowed to remarry and I supported them to stand up for their property rights.
On my return from the UK, I met and engaged with numerous women, including vulnerable women living along the Line of Control. I tried to make them aware of their role in peace. Often women do not understand they have a stake in peace and do not know that their contributions are important, as negotiations and peacebuilding tend to be considered a male domain. Women face all kinds of violence but never realise that their voices matter. As part of my work, I have tried to instil confidence in the women and raise awareness that they have a role to play.