SEATTLE — Ever since the lines of partition were drawn in 1947, Kashmir has been the epicenter of conflict between two nuclear powers: Pakistan and India. Here, Kashmiris have witnessed decades of struggle between Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and local separatist groups vying for control of the valley. From these clashes, the girls of Kashmir have suffered immensely.
How Instability Affects the Girls of Kashmir
Violence in the region has prevented these girls from pursuing their goals and aspirations. It has been reported that of the 2,000 killed between 2011 and 2016, 69 percent have been civilians and 88 percent of these causalities occurred in populated areas such as schools, hospitals and villages.
In addition to this, the girls of Kashmir are disproportionately affected by sexual crimes. This is especially true when examining the militarized atmosphere of the region. There are an estimated 500,000 Indian soldiers (not including Pakistani, Chinese or separatist troops) currently stationed in Kashmir; equal to about 81 troops per square mile. Moreover, a Columbia University survey from 2013 projected that 80 percent of schools located within the valley were within one kilometer of a military base. Of these, some schools were recorded as being directly bordered, or occupied, by military forces.
Due to this constant state of conflict and tension, in 2017 the U.S. State Department released a statement explaining that Kashmiri girls and women were especially vulnerable to sexual violence. Rape and other abuses by armed forces have seriously deteriorated the security of girls and women alike.
The continuous war in Kashmir has not only impacted the physical well-being of young girls, but it has also brought down the educational system around them. Throughout 2016, upwards of 300 schools at a time were shut down in the regions of Kashmir and Jammu due to artillery barrages and border skirmishes. In Indian territory, these disruptions ultimately led to schools only being able to teach for a total of four months during the 2017 school year. Many classes had learned less than 50 percent of the required curriculum for the academic year.
The continual threat of sexual violence and destruction of infrastructure has led to a 67 percent decrease in girls’ enrollment in school from 2013-14 (296,535) to 2015-16 (96,896). However, the girls of Kashmir are not alone anymore. U.S. nonprofits and their partners have increasingly stepped up for these girls where local and foreign governments have failed to do so.
Kashmir Education Initiative
The Kashmir Education Initiative (KEI) is perhaps one of the largest nonprofits aiding the girls of Kashmir. KEI is a joint operation between two differing entities: KEI USA and KEI Kashmir. KEI USA sponsors projects while KEI Kashmir executes them on the ground level. Since 2007, they have achieved remarkable success:
- High School Scholarships Program (HSSP): HSSP can be considered the flagship program of KEI. According to their success report of 2017, 600 youth (including around 300 girls) were awarded $140,000 in scholarships in order to pursue coursework after high school. This is especially significant when the average household from this group survives on less than $2 a day.
- Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGS): UGS has sponsored 45 college-level students through schooling that focuses on engineering, medical and agricultural programs. These programs were specifically selected in order to train future leaders for building a new Kashmir free from violence and poverty.
- Self-Study Pilot: This project began in 2017 by giving 100 laptops to 11th and 12th graders. These laptops are loaded with educational materials and lectures in order to lessen the burden of disruptions caused by the conflict.
- To date, 3,012 scholarships have been awarded, totaling to $645,656. In addition to this, $859,810 has been raised through donations, with 82 percent of the sponsored youth graduating high school with high distinction.
Miracle Corners of the World
Miracle Corners of the World (MCW) is a U.S. nonprofit that focuses on improving education, health and economic security by empowering current and future leaders through programs and summits. MCW has established a strong bond with KEI in order to empower the girls of Kashmir to become advocates for peace and change.
In 2017, Aiman Bradley and Bazila Ajaz (both KEI scholars) were selected to participate in the MCW Young Leaders Access Program. This program lasts about a year and it brings together young advocates and leaders from all over the world to deliberate on how to better their communities. From this experience, Aiman and Bazila discovered their respective interests in empowering female expression and making sure women’s voices are spoken, heard and valued in Kashmir.
Kashmir Family Aid
Kashmir Family Aid is a nonprofit that was founded in Oregon with the goal of improving education in Kashmir and Jammu. It has built and sustained schools in multiple rural communities throughout Pakistan-controlled territory. Kashmir Family Aid also partners with local Oregon businesses in order to construct new schools, supply chairs and other materials and support information exchange between children in Kashmir and those in Oregon.
These are but a tiny fraction of nonprofits helping the girls of Kashmir. They share a common vision that if these young girls are protected and given a chance to learn and become leaders, peace is possible through education. Or in the words of Ifat Idris (former Capacity Development Specialist for the Asian Development Bank): “Denial of education opportunities often means denial of future for young people–thereby perpetuating the negative effects of conflict.”
– Tanner Helem