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Reclaiming spaces in nature: Meet first all-women trekking group in Kashmir

Post by on Wednesday, July 21, 2021

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Nothing on earth can match the joy of a Sunday afternoon spent at a serene place, sitting on a picnic mat along with a good company or traversing the untrodden routes, scaling great heights and enjoying great food in natural sounds of gushing waters and chirping of birds. 
Putting this experience into reality for women, Kashmir Women's Collective (KWC) and Juveria Fatima started the initiative, amidst the pandemic, to take ladies out on trekking and hill resorts. 
Mantasha Binti Rashid, founder Kashmir Women's Collective along with other members of the collective are organising the weekly treks for women since March 2021 and the response they are receiving is growing by the day. 
According to Mantasha the larger objective behind arranging these treks is that women need to reclaim the spaces, particularly spaces in nature. 
"Kashmir is a place of lakes and mountains but unfortunately there are no places for women to go for swimming, trekking or hiking. It's time women own these spaces. Nobody is going to tell them it's yours, they need to go out and explore."
The Collective felt the need of carrying out this activity more in this period because they feel women are shouldering a lot of responsibilities. 
"With the recent pandemic it's become even more important, women are overburdened with work. Some women work from home and have to do double shifts. Seldom anyone helps them, all this has led to a spurt in stress and anxiety and there is an increase in the cases of women committing suicides. So we realised that women need to be out in nature."
She further remarks that since gyms etc were also closed down and being from a close knit society women cannot go out much, not even for a walk. "It was then we felt that women needed to be with women. Their families are also content with this fact that they are with women. Women need to do it for their emotional well-being, physical fitness and mental health."
The initiative was taken on women's day after KWC was winding up one of their projects with women. 
"Initially only members of KWC and some of our friends went out on trekking. We then put a word out on our social media channels and it grew into a larger group that too organically, "says Mahroosh Banday, another member of this collective. 
They arrange two small treks for two weeks within the city and two rigorous treks for two weeks and it's being followed alternately.
"Initially we take women on smaller treks then we invite them for bigger treks depending upon their physical strength and how much they can endure. The smaller treks are also children friendly and mothers request us to arrange them more often," Banday remarks. 
This initiative of KWC has drawn much flak from many sections of the society as Mantasha says every issue that concerns women is a social issue in Kashmir and nearly every social issue of this nature becomes a feminist issue. 
"I have been facing these issues for a long time now and I don't get disheartened but women who have joined us are criticised as well and I understand that everyone doesn't possess the strength to withstand negativity. Frankly speaking no one should be criticised for an issue as simple as trekking but it happens and one has to deal with it."
She says that this is also a way to counter the challenges women are facing in their household. 
"Women need to have a space for themselves and we shouldn't hamper it. Our aim is to create a change even if people find it negative."
As far as deciding upon the destinations goes, Mahroosh says they get in touch with their friends who have been trekking for years. With their help and some local guides they choose their destination. 
So far they have carried out treks at places like Shankar Acharya, Zabarwan Hills, Fakirgujri to Akhal Kangan, Naranag etc. 
"The intermediate treks and small treks have given an opportunity to women to explore; it's a luxury they have long been deprived of. We are being joined by students, professionals, mothers and everyone is as enthusiastic about it as we are as a team," Mahroosh maintains. 
Initially when the group was small nobody would be charged anything but as they are growing, women are supposed to pay the nominal charges. They are also joined by men but he has to be accompanied by a woman. 
"We don't charge more than Rs 200 or 300 for a group of three people or so in which we also provide logistics and food if somebody asks for it."
KWC has plans to explore many untrodden routes this year. "I can't talk about next year but for this year we have incredible trekking. We intend to cover as many as possible. We really organise this well so that we can accommodate as many people as possible.”
 
Juveria Fatima
Juveria Fatima, a college goer, would feel trapped inside her home. One day she thought to arrange an outing with her social media friends, so she put out a post on her social media, open for her friends, to go out on a houseboat. 
"I put it on my wall and in a private ladies group, the response was so huge that all couldn't be accommodated in one houseboat."
Juveria says that it's a time when everyone is grappling with the issues of isolation and being home locked. "It's a difficult time for all the ladies who seldom get time for themselves. I wanted to give them an experience to remember."
So she thought why not take these ladies out on a proper picnic. 
"I again put a post regarding the picnic and this time around I decided to go to Pahalgam."
From the responses, Juveria could see how desperately women needed this outing. 
"The pandemic for married women has just become about household chores and online classes. I want to provide a vent to women so that they can get atleast one day for themselves."
In addition to women, the purpose was also to take kids out of their homes. "Children have been the worst sufferers of the pandemic. They don't go to schools, can't visit parks etc so with this initiative they could go out."
On her first picnic, Juveria arranged food on the spot and kept the charges per head very minimal. "16 ladies joined me on my first trip and everyone went home happily that day."
At Pahalgam, she got in touch with Farnaz Tajamul who took charge of arranging food and permissions on the next trip. 
"On their next trip to Sonamarg, 18 ladies joined in, the food was arranged by Tajamul and charges were more than previous outings since we offered lunch and beverages."
Tajamul also had procured the permission from the District Administration since the outing took place on weekend. 
"We keep it on weekends because we don't want ladies to miss out on their classes, kid's online classes or their office."
The Juveria is joined by Doctors, techies, students, homemakers etc. 
A big part of all this is maintaining the SOPs when the group travels. 
"We want to keep it safe for everyone. That's why we ask everyone to bring up their own sanitizers, mask up and maintain social distance."
Ladies who were a part of this group say they have enjoyed it to the core and wish to be a part of more such outings. 
"It has been a respite from the routine. My last two years have been spent on teaching my son and doing household work. I would seldom take time out for myself," reads the post of a member. 
Juveria, who is planning to arrange one more picnic for ladies and kids in the month of August says: "This time around we would be visiting Kokernag and we are all set to go. So far 25 ladies have registered with us and we have roped in a travel agency for the logistics."
Talking about her plans, Juveria remarked they would be arranging many more outings in the future. 
"We will be having night stays as well, wherein we will carry out different activities for kids to provide them an environment to cut the boredom."
Adding further she says, "Anything is possible when you trust yourself and have the right people to support you."
 
 
 

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