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International Conference on Higher Education

“King Abdul Aziz, founder of Saudi Kingdom admitted to marrying 200 women. Women in Saudi Arabia are denied equal rights. They need a wali (guardian) all the time and for certain businesses”: Saudi Scholar Pooneh Alamir.

By Dr. Malika Mistry
 Recently an International Conference on “Social Inequalities in Higher Education : Identifying Parallels in India and Brazil” under the flagship of Third Mission in Higher Education (Extension) Programme was organized here by the Department of Adult, Continuing Education and Extension, University of  Pune.
Dr. Sugan Bhatia, President, Indian University Association for Continuing  Education,  in his address “Social  Inequalities in Higher Education in India”  enlightened that  the phenomenon of disparities is found to exist in terms of gender and religious groups as well. According to the report Indian Higher Education : The Twelfth Plan and Beyond (2012)  prepared by the Planning Commission, in case of religious groups, the Muslim women seem to be facing most difficult circumstances. The GER (General Enrolment Ratio) among Muslim females was 5.8% compared to 9.32% for Hindu females, 12.7% for Sikh families, and 16% for Christian females.
For social mobility education is very important. For modern economy, knowledge is very important.  A UGC publication titled “University and Society : Issues and Challenges” (2011) based on the proceedings of a Conference of Vice-Chancellors of Central and State Universities, accords an equalizing status to knowledge in the modern economy.  It states: “The fact that knowledge is considered an equaliser, calls for expansion of equitable access to and quality of higher education.  The university system can improve the growth and development of our society by increasing the diversity of its student population, by effectively engaging itself in improving participation of the hitherto underserved segments of our population, that is, women, socio-economically disadvantaged sections and minorities, in the programmes of higher education.”
There were a few papers on higher education among Muslims in India. Sajjad Ahmed from University of Delhi, in his paper “Education as a touchstone of Endemic Alienation : A Study in the Context of Muslims in India”  explained that from his fieldwork he observed that  the patterns of alienation of Muslims from education in all the sample areas are not uniform. The emerging pattern is area-specific. De-alienation, though slow, has started taking place in the community. “This shows a greater hope for positive output”, he observed.  
One expert pointed out that like the SCs and STs,  Muslims are a deprived community in India.  The right wing politics and deep-rooted prejudices against them make their socio-economic progress extremely difficult.
Benazir Tamboli from Tilak Vidyapeeth, Pune, in her paper “Muslim Women and Higher Education” averred that Islam is one of the most revolutionary faiths which supported women in all the aspects of life. Since inception, we find a long list of Muslim women scholars who played an active role in the development of the community.  Islam and Prophet always encouraged education. Prophet advised Muslims to even travel up to China for knowledge.  However, presently Muslim women lag behind others in higher education due to socio-economic and cultural reasons.  To bring them on par, concerted efforts are necessary on the part of the family, community, leaders and the government.
Pooneh Alamir, a Research Scholar from Saudi Arabia, in his paper “Need to  Codify Family and Civil Laws in Saudi Arabia to Address Gender Inequality in 21stCentury” pointed out that in Saudi Arabia the right for men to marry up to four wives, combined with their ability to divorce a wife at any time without any valid cause, can translate to unlimited polygamy. King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the country, reportedly admitted to marrying over two hundred women.  Although there is no written ban on women driving cars, a Saudi driving license is required by law and these are not issued to women.  Thus, it is effectively illegal for women to drive, and the ban is enforced by the mutawa (the dreaded religious police). Every adult woman has to have a close male relative as her ‘guardian’ (Wali). As a result, Human Rights Watch has described the position of Saudi women as no different from being a minor, with little authority over their own lives.  The guardian is entitled to make a number of critical  decisions on a woman’s behalf. These include giving approval to women’s travel, to hold some types of business licences, to study at a university or college and to work for the type of business is not ‘deemed appropriate for a woman”. Even where a guardian’s approval is not legally required, some officials will ask for it.  “Thus, in the name of Islam, which is most revolutionary in giving rights to women, the Saudi society is denying these right to their women which hinders their full progress. Change has to come in Saudi society”, he pointed out.