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JAMMU: Throughout her life, she has been working relentlessly for the welfare and betterment of the women of Kashmir. Her zeal, zest and sincerity in helping the marginalised, hapless, exploited and downtrodden women of the society has made her a familiar name among the women of Kashmir valley. She doesn’t get tired listening to various issues in the lives of the women around her, this is quite visible too as a number of women are often seen waiting in her home to discuss various issues in their lives and seek help and solutions from her; her phone doesn't stop ringing; countless women look up to her for her able guidance.

Women approach her for issues ranging from marital discord and infidelity to dowry harassment and property rights. She is always ready to help them with her ever smiling face devoid of a single crease on her forehead. A committed social worker, a well known philanthropist, a human being par excellence, she is Gulzara Masoodi, one of the two Members of Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women, J&K government. A well known educationist of Kashmir, Mrs. Gulzara Masoodi bares her heart out about women issues in Jammu and Kashmir in a freewheeling conversation with this correspondent: Excerpts from the interview:  

You have devoted your entire life to the welfare of women of our state. Tell us something about your journey? 

I was born in Srinagar city and since my childhood, I am also helpful to everybody. My friends would always look up to me for advice and guidance, my family was also helping the society especially women. The women of Jammu and Kashmir were much better than the women of the rest of the country in my growing up years. Women would approach me for counselling, guidance, help regarding various issues like marital discord, domestic violence, harassment or any other personal or professional problem. And I would always give the best of the advice to the best of my ability. When I was married into a well known spiritual family of Masoodis in Pampore, this social work also continued as they too have been working for the society since past many decades. Thus, the number of women coming to me was ever increasing. Even as an educationist who worked in the field of education for almost 40 years, I was encouraging the girls to come forward, study, recognise their potential and stand on their feet as education is one of the biggest tools for women empowerment. This is my small journey which is still continuing.

How do you see the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with regard to women’s issues? 

Well, the past three decades have deeply affected people's livelihood, their living environments, health, their work and workplaces, their access to education and so on. It is the women of Jammu and Kashmir who have felt its impact most severely. Women are among the most vulnerable groups. We have widows, half widows, unmarried girls; displaced women due to border shelling, illiterate women and girls, the issues are many. Violence against women is increasing, she has poor and low status, lack of education is a major hindrance to her empowerment and there is not much awareness, so plenty of issues. 

As a Member of the J&K State Commission for women, how do you address such tackle of address such issues? 

I have a huge social standing and social circle and I am in a position where I can act and I am doing so. It’s my personal commitment to my society too and thus I am trying to redress the problems pertaining to women. I have always been working for the welfare of the women since past over 40 years in my personal capacity. Now, as Member of the State Women Commission, many women contact me and seek the redressal all of their problems. I get complaints from remote areas even and women even come for counselling or consultation to my home. I feel satisfied about the fact that I am able to help them. Yet, there are many hurdles and I am trying to cross those hurdles.  

Do you think government is sincere towards women’s issues?

Yes, surely it is. Our hon’ble chief minister Ms. Mehbooba Mufti is the first female chief minister of the state and she is also totally alive to the situation of the women. Women empowerment is one of the top agendas of her government. That is why she is trying her best to empower the women and girls of the state. She fully understands that women empowerment is the need of the hour as we are almost 50 % of world’s population and all of us are working to achieve this. 

What are your future plans with regard to women empowerment?

I am in Jammu these days. I would be travelling to various districts of the Jammu zone in very near future as part of SWC team for Legal Awareness Programmes (LAP) which has been started in collaboration with National Commission for Women, New Delhi. The objective of these programmes is to spread awareness about the fundamental rights guaranteed to women under the Constitution. So, we would be spreading awareness among the participants about various laws made for the safety of women in next couple of months in Jammu and later in Kashmir. 

What would be your message to our society? 

Islam gives enormous rights to women but certain vested interests distort the real message to suit their politics. If we want peace and stability, women should also have stakes in our social and political processes. As a society, we need to provide an environment to the girls and women which is violence-free, where there is no violation of human rights, where there is no discrimination and she can take her own decisions. The female literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir is quite low though there has been some increase in it in the past few decades. More collective sincere efforts need to be initiated to educate girls which can enable the Kashmiri women to secure an emancipated position in economic, social and political fields. We need to work collectively for women empowerment as individual, societal and state level.  

I exhort girls and women to come forward, assert their rights and help the Commission in creating a society free of violence and discrimination against women. Women should always raise their voice against any injustice or infringement of rights they face in their homes or outside. This culture of silence that we witness around us has to go. Mehboobaji-led government is committed to ensure women empowerment in the State, especially in rural and far-flung areas and thus we need for raising awareness among females about various legal provisions and safeguards provided to them under the constitution. 

If somebody wants your help for any women-related issues, how can one get in touch with you?  

We have a State Women Commission website and our names and telephone numbers are there. We are on social networks too. There is another number 7889799509 which is available for whatsapp messages also. The other day I was discussing women issues with Minister for Social Welfare and was happy to know that Department of Social Welfare has also started another women helpline 181 which is available also on 0191-2571860. I am always available for the women of my state.