Muslim Daughter in India Breaks Home-Bound Custom

Friday, September 2, 2011

Muslim girls and women in northern India have the lowest levels of education and are the least likely to leave home to work. When one 19-year-old pushed her way into the paid work force she had to brave the fury of her younger brother.

LUCKNOW, UTTAR PRADESH, India (WOMENSENEWS)--Tehmina Kazmi works as an usher for a small event-management company here in Uttar Pradesh's state capital.

For many 19-year-olds that might not be unusual, but for Kazmi, a young woman from an orthodox Muslim home in the old part of the city, it meant donning Western attire--slacks and a blouse--a prospect that infuriated her younger brother.

"He even beat me up when I made up my mind to take up this job," Kazmi says. "But today, almost a year on, I am still working. I have even bought him a mobile phone!"

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Kazmi says that after her father died the family was reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence. "I had to leave school and so did my brother. Our mother is not educated and could not find a job. That's when I decided that I will support my family and began to look out for jobs that didn't need very high educational qualifications but could help pay the bills."

Now she is bringing home about $18 a day.

Muslim women from wealthier families have long pursued careers based on a strong early education.

A prime example is Qamar Rehman, dean of research science and technology at Amity University here in Lucknow. She's a world-renowned expert in the field of toxicology because of her groundbreaking research into the toxicity of fibers, particles and nano particles and their impact on the environment and population.

"In the male-dominated Muslim community, for a woman to make an independent career for herself is extremely difficult," says Rehman. "But I never accepted defeat and that has kept me going."

Rare Opportunity

But Rehman had the kind of educational opportunity that is rare among girls and women from lower-income Muslim families.

In their 2004 book, "Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India," Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon gathered data that found the constitutional goal of eight years of schooling remains a dream for Muslim girls in northern India.

Instead, their survey found an average of 2.7 years of schooling for Muslim girls, worse even than the 3.8-year average for a Hindu girl.

About 59 percent of these girls never get into school and less than 10 percent complete it.

In higher education, according to the authors' data, Muslim women in India have an abysmal share at less than 4 percent, lower than that of women who grow up at the bottom of the caste system.

The authors found that in conservative and patriarchal areas such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, only very poor women or those from high-income groups worked.

They cited national data showing that while women's employment went up throughout the 1990s, Muslim women were left out of that trend.

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Madrasses are madrasses, and if children, both boys and girls, attend these, they need to adhere to the secular standards of the Indian government. The madrasse schools are not something to condone, and this shows how much the Indian government needs to improve its access to education for Muslim children. if Muslims in India are still refusing to send their children to government schools, then this indicates that the old problem there, is still going to be reflected in the education the Muslim girls and boys do get in the Madrasse schools.

I'm so glad that this brave woman braved her brother. My best wishes to all the uneducated people around the world!