Monday, September 4, 2023

India's Missing Muslim Women

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam 4 September 2023 Muslims occupy an essential position in Indian society. They are the principal minority of this country. According to the 2011 census, Muslims constituted 13.4% of India's total population, with the majority in Lakshadweep, Jammu, and Kashmir. Women empowerment is a contemporary issue in developing countries like India. It is assumed that the development of Muslim society has sustained a setback due to various factors, of which the 'Invisible' role and 'Marginal' social position of women in the dynamics of Muslim society is vital. The rates of women empowerment are in a vulnerable condition within the most prominent Muslim minority. The lack of social opportunities for Muslim women is a crucial issue needing urgent Action. Indian Muslim women are practically invisible across the country. What needs to change to ensure they get their proper place in the community leadership in the hierarchical ladder? Social structures have always played a role in widening economic divides between those marginalized by gender, religion, caste, and their intersections. Muslim women, who constitute only one-tenth of the working women population in India, bore the brunt of hate campaigns, hiring biases, and state-sanctioned demolition drives. The Missing Numbers in Education Recent data on higher education enrolment in the country showed that there were more women than men from the Muslim community in undergraduate courses (AISHE 2021). Out of 1,000 Muslim students in higher education, 503 are women. While the steady equalizing of Muslim women and men in education should be lauded, we must realize it is against the background of an absolute decrease of Muslims in higher education. The number of students from the community in higher education decreased to 19.21 lakh (4.6 per cent) in 2020-21 from 21 lakh (5.5 per cent) in 2019-20. Furthermore, while the ratio of women to men in education has increased, Muslim women are conspicuously absent from the workforce. This might be due to a lag effect, but it does not mean we can ignore the need for a bridge from education to employment. Despite more Muslim women than men getting degrees, women are the most disenfranchised group in the country. Not only are we subject to high levels of unemployment and poverty, but Discrimination based on our faith, gender and ethnic background hinders our entry into the labour market., it's not Discrimination that is holding us back. British Muslim women have failed to grasp that integration is the missing "key to success". Pious women (most of them wearing the headscarf) taking part in the public realm, leading a professional life and engaging in activism for a more equitable society are subjected to various definitions. While usually viewed as feminist or Islamic/Islamist, these women are sometimes described only as Islamist or fundamentalist. Although we see the term fundamentalist used less frequently in recent years, the designations "feminist" or "Islamic feminist" subject these women to a coarse categorization against their will. This attitude reflects the view that the Muslim woman cannot be a subject and that her ideas about herself cannot be reliable. As such, it ceases to be seen in everyday life alone but gains currency in intellectual and academic arenas. Thus, a social-scientific approach that claims to give priority to understanding slips into self-denial from the very beginning. Muslim Women Are Not Monolithic Treating all Muslim women's problems as monolithically attributable to their religion is a cul-de-sac. Some vast cultural differences and influences go beyond the simplistic attention-grabbing headlines. Even in the diaspora, Muslims perpetuate cultural strands of religious practice, believing that engaging with communities, as opposed to some faceless spiritual body, might be more productive. Indeed, Muslim women in India exhibit a slightly higher fertility rate than other religious communities. However, the differences between these rates are minimal, and only marginal growth is projected in the coming decades. The main concern is why Muslim women remain deprived, poor, socially excluded, and at the fringes of development even after seven decades of independence. Other disadvantaged communities have made significant progress in the post-independence era through proper policies. Still, we have overlooked the progress of the Muslim community in general and Muslim women in particular. According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), 2018, every third Muslim in India lives in multidimensional poverty based on nutrition, health, education, living standards, and assets. Health scenarios are even worse among Muslim women. Research evidence underscores that Muslim mother-child pairs are more likely to suffer from malnutrition than other communities. Another significant issue among Muslim women is high illiteracy, as the Sachar Committee report emphasized. The gross enrolment ratio at the primary level is the lowest among Muslims, even worse than SCs, STs, and other social and religious groups. Another significant issue is the low participation of Muslim women in the labour market. According to the periodic labour force survey (2020-21), about 10% of Muslim women participate in the labour market, the lowest among all religious groups. Several endeavours are helping Muslim women emerge out of their shadows. Still, these are undermined and treated with increased cynicism when it is morally hijacked to underwrite even moderate idealistic campaigns. The situation is equally dire in the second-largest demographic in India, with nearly 14 per cent of the country's population. Here, economic reforms need precedence over gender reforms. Improvement in gender conditions can automatically follow as a byproduct of economic redemption. The biggest problems facing Muslim society today are financial, and the worst sufferers are women. These problems will not likely be solved with civil rights remedies, but they could be relieved with public and private Action encouraging economic redevelopment. Poor Muslims are much poorer than poor Hindus and can easily be bracketed with the lowest Hindu castes and Dalits. Muslims are stuck at the bottom of almost every economic or social heap. The government has been aggressively pursuing the agenda of reforms in the personal laws of Muslims. Economic backwardness is a much more complex and bitter reality for Muslims. The State can't turn its eyes off it, mainly when training so many telescopes on the community's social condition. It will amount to questioning the purity of the nationalism of Muslims, the same way the upper castes have questioned the purity of spiritualism of the so-called backward castes. The Indian Development Review (IDR) has done commendable work of collating and researching, surveying, documenting, and studies undertaken by socially conscious researchers whose intensive and detailed research throws enormous light on the root cause of the malaise that Muslim women offer. These studies have been analysed and examined to understand the problem. Muslim women from the middle and upper classes with higher education get excellent placements with handsome salaries and perks. Those from low-income groups struggle relentlessly for money and start working to compensate for the loss of family income. The plight of middle and lower-tier women is tragic. The migrant workers in the informal sector are the most disadvantaged because they lacked social security apart from encountering numerous other challenges. Since 1959, several bills that would ensure essential safeguards such as fair wages, pensions, and maternity and health benefits to domestic workers have been introduced in Parliament. But none of them was passed as a law. Muslim women are significantly under-represented in the workforce. According to the 66th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation (2009–10), out of every 1,000 working women, only 101—a meagre 10 per cent—were found to be Muslim. As per the 2011 Census data, the Indian worker population ratio of Muslims was the lowest at 32.6; Hindus and Christians had a worker population ratio of 41 and 41.9, respectively. The migrant Muslim women workers also suffer from errors of omission. According to the 2011 Census survey, 67 per cent of the migrating population is women, and an estimated 11 per cent of the women migrate with their families. This data doesn't show that many women who migrate with their husbands and families continue to work, even if they don't often see themselves as breadwinners. Nonprofits believe that only the government has the resources and adequately trained workforce to undertake research at a scale in line with India's vast and diverse geography and demography. Shreya says, "While we work among the workers, we don't have the resources and reach you need to conduct a comprehensive survey. It is the government's job. Even the most innovative nonprofits can't undertake the kind of surveys that the government officials can." Most of the present literature on the marginalization of Muslim women focuses on personal law and constitutional frameworks rather than on their presence in the labour force. There is also little conversation in the public domain about their dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Muslim women have always been caught between political considerations and personal marginalization. Internal factors, too, require systemic changes and are limited until external factors are corrected. However, specific shifts in existing structures can help create space for young Indian Muslim women. What Will It Take to Change This? Increasing Enrolment in Educational Institutions A report from the National Statistical Office reveals the abysmal literacy rate among Muslims and the severity of their academic marginalization in India. According to it, Muslims have the highest proportion of youth (ages 3-35 years) who have never enrolled in formal education. The report also states that the Gross Attendance Ratio (people attending a level of education as a proportion of the population of the group) of Muslims is the lowest—100 per cent in primary education—among various social and religious groups in India and drops to a mere 14 per cent in above-higher secondary courses. One step in the right direction would be to expand the scope of the Right to Education Act of 2009—which ensures compulsory primary education—to include secondary and higher education. Muslim women face Discrimination in schooling because of their religious affiliation and are less likely to enrol in school than Muslim men. According to the report, the male literacy rate in India is 81 per cent, whereas the female literacy rate is 69 per cent. An unpublished study draws parallels between Muslim and Hindu women, stating that women from both communities tend to have lower enrolment levels than men in Indian society because of various economic and cultural factors. However, Muslim women also face Discrimination in schooling because of their religious affiliation and are less likely to enrol in school than Muslim men. Therefore, policy changes for the community to encourage Muslims, especially women, to continue their studies and eventually seek employment require rigorous and sustained efforts. Muslims still rely on Madrasas and Maktabs as Muslim women are the most backward in education. Madrasas and Maktabs are left to be the only refuge for their education. Bottlenecks of formal education need reform to provide education to weaker sects at affordable prices. In addition, the upgradation of Madrasas and Maktabs is necessary for ensuring better learning conditions, especially for those who can't afford formal education in school. Ensuring Equal Opportunities In A Professional Space Beyond the personal, psychological experience of feeling different from the majority, there are measurable consequences for being the 'other'. While this may not be the case for every woman in every working environment, in our white, male-dominated business world, it is an all-too-common occurrence. When women are excluded, companies lose out on their talent and remain deprived of the contribution of a vital component of the workforce. Change can only come if organizations start to listen, understand and devise solutions to address the barriers women and other minority groups face. Such steps will go a long way to creating a solid pipeline of diverse talent. Celebrating Female Entrepreneurs Celebrating women's role models through cross-media campaigns by national and State governments can help eliminate stereotypes, build community, and celebrate the successes of Indian Muslim women. This can also be translated to the private sector through a sectoral campaign that brings female professionals and entrepreneurs into the mainstream. This would help young Indian Muslim women identify potential mentors and empower them to continue their journey from education to employment. Building A Support Network Of Like-Minded Women A platform or an informal, inclusive support network to facilitate the exchange of ideas, information, capital, and counsel between budding and successful entrepreneurs needs to be set up. While we understand that changing this status quo may be slow and arduous, it is certainly not impossible. Neo-colonialist sensitivities run deep in Muslim societies, and many fruitful joint ventures can be sabotaged due to such prickliness. Finding local partners and supporting indigenous role models can minimize this effect. ----- Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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