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Self-help groups for women

Women in Kashmir

Promoting economic independence

For a long time, women in Kashmir had no rights. Thanks to self-help groups and literacy programmes they are now gaining confidence. © Wernet
For a long time, women in Kashmir had no rights. Thanks to self-help groups and literacy programmes they are now gaining confidence. © Wernet

 

Few regions in the world are as contested as Kashmir: India, China and Pakistan all claim the former princely state as theirs. In the past, Kashmir was renowned for its silk production, wool processing and traditional fruit farming. For decades, however, economic and social development have badly suffered from the effects of the smouldering conflict. Insecurity and violence determine the lives of the people. Today, Kashmir lies in the bottom third of Indian states on the basis of per capita income, the education and health systems are falling to an ever lower standard.

Welthungerhilfe and its Indian partner IGSSS are making a contribution to improving the living conditions of people in the Kashmir valley. In 50 villages they are supporting predominantly socially-disadvantaged women in the Indian part of the federal state – widows and women whose husbands or children disappeared without trace in the political troubles. The women organise themselves in self-help groups and learn how they can achieve financial independence – a completely new model for Kashmir.

A holistic approach, from which everyone benefits

The special thing about it: The majority of the community members are Muslims, both Sunni and Shia. They work peacefully together on the future of their homeland. Because government and authorities also participate in the project through workshops and forums, the activities receive attention, broad acceptance and official support.

For young people too, growing up in a time of social unrest, the project means a promising outlook. They organise themselves in youth committees or clubs and have the possibility of an education. When village committees operate across boundaries of religion and gender, it makes an enormous contribution to strengthening the self-help potential of the residents – and to stabilising peace in the region.

Women are organising themselves

Through courses, women are learning reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition, they are discovering how credit savings groups can help them: The aim of the groups is to save capital together so that its members can borrow small credit at a reasonable rate of interest. Women are thereby in the position, for example, to open a small shop, to set themselves up as a self-employed carpet weaver or to grow and sell vegetables.

They use their profits to pay back the credit to the group or pay off other debts. And naturally, their income flows into the livelihood of their families, which they could scarcely raise before. Particularly, if someone was ill or other extraordinary outgoings were needed. It is not just women, however, who are benefiting from the project. Around 1,000 young people, 100 members of local community councils and 250 members of village development committees are also included.

Between India, Pakistan and China

The former princely state of Kashmir was claimed by multiple countries at once: India, Pakistan and China. To date, there is no binding international law across the borders. And so the Himalayan region still carriess the potential for conflict, India and Pakistan alone have fought three wars over Kashmir. As a result, the people here have lived for decades in daily uncertainty and violence, the smouldering conflict greatly hinders social and economic progress.

Welthungerhilfe works in the Indian part of the region, in the federal state of Jammu and Kashmir. Here, the previously well-renowned silk production, the wool processing and the traditional fruit farming have all suffered greatly due to transport restrictions and the tense security situation. Today, Kashmir lies in the bottom third of Indian states in terms of per capita income, the school and health systems are falling to an ever lower standard.

The aid measures are financially supported by the European Union.