Why was Shazia unable to speak for herself and deny? Why did she let those degrees be taken down right in front of her eyes? While the answer to this has previously been identified through the lack of supportive structures, in what specific ways can the Indian community foster a pathway for Muslim Women in India to succeed with a special focus on financially backward Muslim Women. The key issue lies in terms of providing the necessary motivation, incentive, and support that reaches the marginalized women that most require it.
The first call to action would be to create a national network of organizations that are working directly with women from grassroots communities. Often, the problems faced by Muslim Women in grassroots rural areas differ from the problem that urban Muslim Women face. For example, while urban Muslim women may find harassment and financial means as the key barriers to labor force participation, women in rural areas do not have access to technology at all. In today’s digital age, for example, social media platforms like LinkedIn have created a hub of resources and a pool of connections. Not having access to technology disconnects them from these job opportunities as a whole.
One such example is the platform brought by the National Skills Development Corporation and Skills India developed during the Covid-19 pandemic. While this platform is effective and creating a connected learning environment to develop the skills of women across India. The key improvement required in these platforms is a pre-launch survey of the kind of skills, not just women in general but Muslim women require. A lot of government schemes such as those listed above simply assume the skills of women to improve employability and literacy. However, it is recommended that a pre-launch survey is provided so the government is best able to gauge the kind of support required. None of the government education and literacy platforms mention the basis for their skills provision.
Moreover, it is crucial to reach out to rural Muslim women without access to technology. The key way to do this is for larger organizations that focus on the development of marginalized Muslim women to grow their branches into densely populated rural Muslim areas to continue their advocacy and professional development. Connecting to cyber-cafes and develop platforms specifically for Muslim Women in these rural communities can create a sense of community and inclusivity.
The second most crucial aspect stems from the need for a policy change. However, this policy change does not necessarily focus on creating more opportunities, scholarships, or support it also involves reducing overall islamophobia and security policies. The 2019 Jamia Millia Islamia attack was an outright act of Islamophobia against students in India who were largely Muslim. The police brutality and protest movement caught international attention as covered by Al Jazeera in an article titled “India: Footage appears to show police attack on Jamia students. Video shows what appear to be policemen in riot gear beating students in the JMI university library last December”. Not only is there a need for security policies for Muslim students but also policies for police brutality. Though these aspects may not seem as direct impact on the professional development of Muslim women, they play an incredibly crucial role in determining whether Muslim women are willing to go to educational structures that can no longer protect and embrace their identity. This is not simply a security issue, rather it suppresses the fact that students must speak out against wrongdoings and discrimination. Speaking out becomes more difficult for Muslim, Indian women with intersectional identities.
A key solution for the above issue would be for educational institutions to create a safe environment for students to exercise the right to speak out and communicate the needs of the students openly. Educational structures and institutions must also speak 1-1 with parents and spread awareness about new policies that will ensure the safety of Muslim students especially Muslim women who would otherwise be reluctant on enrolling in university if this information was not appropriately disseminated. Creating a sense of community through platforms like LedBy helps provide mentorship, career circles and also reach out to families to highlight the capabilities of the women the platforms are working closely with. At a larger scale, the creation of schools or learning centers within rural areas in affiliation with larger organizations will allow effective outreach. Advocacy and negotiation for these projects must be entrenched within village panchayat systems which will ensure the creation of these projects at the grass-root level. Another interconnected aspect is the presence of Muslim women as a panchayat as seen in the case of Kerala. Possible quota systems will allow for policy change and effective political representation.
In conclusion, it is crucial to note that uplifting women with intersectional identities professionally for further education or political representation is a highly complex and multilayered process. While it begins with developing the attitude and perceptions of women about their own selves, there is a need to create allies to foster this will and determination be it through support structures, daily interactions, or eventual policy changes in the long run.
Salwa Mansuri is studying Politics and International Relations at University College London, this is her third in a three-part series
The views expressed by the author are personal