Neelofar Khurshid, Aasiya Khan and Shamiya Qadri cannot be more different except for one thing. Kashmir's political troubles have snatched their childhoods and burdened them with maturity and stoicism beyond their years.

Neelofar who works in a call centre, Aasiya in class eleven with architectural ambitions and clinical psychologist Shamiya crave above all for peace and security. They carry a feeling that women elsewhere in the country are happier and freer and want the same.

Unlike most women, Neelofar who is 27 has to pursue with authorities the disappearance of her elder college-going brother in 1999. Ageing parents and a younger sister have to be supported while doing distance BA.

Gender harassment and inequality at work could have been the last straw. But Neelofar has overcome it. "We have these problems in Kashmir like any other part of the country," she says. "But every woman has to fight it her way to get her deserving place in society and in her family." Aasiya, 18, is in happier circumstances than Neelofar well-provided by her businessman father and with no family tragedies. With no architecture college in J and K, she will study outside the state. But her thoughts remain with Kashmir.

"We have suffered hell," says Aasiya. "But we know how to rise too. I want to tell the whole world that we "women of conflict" can be successful. I want to see Kashmir in peace. No more old political tussles for me."

Shamiya has the most direct approach to Kashmir's problems. Moved by the conflict-induced psychological devastation of Kashmiris but especially of women -- some of who to combat personal tragedies have become addicted to opiates -- Shamiya became a clinical psychologist. But at 30, Shamiya wants to shift to politics. "Conflict destroyed our childhood," she says. "We know how much it takes away from our people. It's time to act politically and bring enduring peace."

In limited ways, Shamiya and Aasiya are lucky. They have dreams they can pursue. Not Neelofar. And not Ambreen, 34, mother of two, who can only hope for peace. "We just want our families to be happy," she says, "and for Kashmir to regain its old charm."

Decades of turmoil have made Kashmiri women politically acute. Whether educated or unschooled homemakers in remote regions, they are well-informed and opinionated. But they are also psychologically scarred more than anybody. In their seemingly inescapable misfortune, they illusorily exaggerate well-being among women elsewhere in the country. Nor does it help that on education and employment indicators, Kashmiri women lag other states. Kashmir's leading sociologist, B.A.Dabla, says all the Valley women are in one or another economic activity and predominantly in agriculture, handicraft, small business and household occupations.

This is not the same as women marching up the professional ladder on a high education note, despite their growing numbers as doctors, teachers, techies and bankers. Typically, about one girl in a family of six may be educated. School-girl dropouts are higher. Women in media don't count more than fifteen working journalists.

But Shamiya, Aasiya, Neelofar, Ambreen and others are robustly hopeful of change. And they are of one mind that Kashmir needs peace and security. It does not mean they have forgotten the past or its hellish preying on their lives and happiness. But pragmatic as only women can be, they have reconciled to moving on.