“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Junaid affirms the importance of women’s participation in strengthening society and nation

(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 26, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather – Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai – was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. He is also the Srinagar District President of J&K Peoples’ Conference, led by Mr. Sajad Lone. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music.)

Importance of Women Leaders

The role of women in leading developing nations towards change is indispensable. This is primarily due to two realities that cannot be ignored. Women, due to their social roles and responsibilities in our societies, can look at the issues faced by people from a unique vantage point. As budding professionals of the 21st century, as home-makers, mothers and daughters, women know about the day-to-day issues of a society with an unparalleled clarity. While other States of India are witnessing the emergence of a new crop of women leaders, J&K is yet to realize the need for a balanced representation for women in politics, business and social sector initiatives. Second, as equal stakeholders in the future of nations, women have equal rights to partake in policy making processes, a participation without which most policies would fail to take into account numerous glaring gender biases that both undermine and discourage the achievements of women in our societies. While the reservation system in urban local bodies has been put in place to encourage genuine participation of women in local governance, the political culture of proxy-candidates and obnoxiousness designed by our twin traditional mainstream parties has resulted in further polarization of potential women leaders when it comes to politics.

23 out of the present 68 Municipal Wards in Srinagar are reserved for women candidates. In past civic elections this has meant that NC and PDP either fielded proxy-candidates or, due to boycott politics – got away with fielding unheard and unknown candidates in most of these reserved wards. Both parties effectively stunted an evolution of women leadership and handed over Srinagar – J&K’s capital city, to disconnected and unsuitable local body leaders. An aberration of this magnitude has taken a toll on our society by drowning it into social chaos, crime and waywardness. As Municipal Elections are around the corner, we have to take a conscious collective decision yet again. Do we allow our society to be leaderless and misrepresented when it comes to our day-to-day issues yet again for the next 5 years? Do we allow Srinagar – a city of legacy, heritage, art and cultural excellence, to be represented by uneducated, inarticulate and socially isolated leaders yet again?

Although there is a long way to go – especially within our State, Kashmiri women have made great leaps in fields of journalism, business, social organizations and fields of academics and science. In 2009, Farah Pandith, a young Kashmiri daughter of the soil was appointed as the US Government’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Pandith is a prime example of a new crop of Kashmiri women leaders who have made a mark for themselves. Kashmiri journalists like Nidhi Razdan and Mahrukh Inayat have also become recognizable leaders in the field of journalism. This year saw Dr. Gazala Amin take an encouraging leap by becoming the first woman to stand for election to the President’s position at the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries. Dr. Gazala Amin, a medical doctor by profession and one of Kashmir’s most innovative entrepreneurs by choice, established and now heads Kashmir’s first organized private initiative in the aromatic and medicinal plants industry. I firmly believe that it is educated and articulate leaders like Dr. Gazala who can first envision a gender equitable future for Kashmiri women and perhaps then go on to be pioneers and leaders who transform Kashmir from socio-economic deprivation to economic prosperity.

However, to undermine these great leaps, we have been trapped in a political culture of notoriousness and chaos by NC and PDP. Both parties have duly ensured that Kashmiri women stay leaderless, misrepresented and unheard. Taking into account the social and psychological effects of conflict borne by Kashmiri women, it’s high time they get credible and empathetic political leadership to undo the wrongs of turmoil. Also, for the holistic and equitable development of Srinagar in specific and Kashmir in general, it’s imperative that a new crop of women leaders emerge to take on the reins of change. I hope that educated, honest and passionate Kashmiri women step forward to contest the upcoming Municipal Elections and make use of the reserved wards set apart for them to usher this city and this State into a corrective era of prosperity and development. Its time to make fundamental changes in our attitudes and approaches to better suit and account for women in our political system, our public and private sectors.