2009 was an extraordinary year for Athwaas in Kashmir. The samanbals are going from strength to strength – with another 3 being setup around Kashmir – and Athwaas is beginning to be recognised as a legitimate voice in the Kashmiri peace process.
Samanbals provide a safe place for Kashmiri women of all backgrounds to meet, learn & share, to build a women’s movement that crosses ethnic divisions & provides a clear voice for peace in Kashmir. A place for girls like Froma – who first went to the samanbals as a shy girl who didn’t question anything & now leads her samanbal & investigates domestice violence in her community.
Athwaas is demonstrating the effectiveness of the samanbal model to government officials and it is gaining interest. If they are successful in promoting the samanbal model, the samanbals will be expanded and replicated across the whole of the region. They are also working with other groups to scale up the sananbal model for the whole region, increasing the network of women’s groups connected to Athwaas and furthering their legitimacy of a voice of women across all ethnicities & adding more weight to their voice in the peace process.
Athwaas was heavily involved in lobbying for the extension of the Domestic Violence Act – which exists in the rest of India but not yet Jammu and Kashmir. The bill criminalises domestic violence and provides some level protection for women in the eyes of the law. Parts of the Act were drafted by the women of the samanbals, and when it is pushed through parliament in February, it will mark a landmark for the role of women in politics in Jammu-Kashmir, and an important first step for opening up the political and public space to women and others who wish to voice their desires for peace.
The direct contacts that Athwaas now has with government policy makers means that women are beginning to move to a point where they are directly involved in the peace process, and they hope use the success of 2009 as the start of a movement that has an even bigger impact for peace in Kashmir.