Development economists aver that development can’t be distanced from the discussion of gender. So to explore the gender and development issues such as health, education, violence against women, and economic empowerment, a three-day national conference was recently (6th, 7th, and 8th of June 2022) organized by the Centre for Development Policy and Practice and Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad.
Muslim women in India are caught in the cross-fire of Hindutva politics, the Hijab row, the triple talaq issue, and the mock auction of Muslim women who dared to raise their voices. In the middle of all these, we have those women who have been flag-bearers of the anti-CAA movement with their mighty display of resistance.
Nagma Mulla, the CEO, of Edelgive Foundation, shared her experience of working with NGOs and helping them develop capacity and leadership to reach underserved areas and populations. She pointed out that Gandhiji ensured that women participated in the freedom movement achieved through non-violence. Nehru too wanted women and men to rebuild India. However even today only 4 percent of the resources are spent on women. In India too it is the same. For one or other reason women are denied resources.
Shaheda Muttuza, Director, Women’s Study Center, MANUU, averred that “women are not bound but are made subhuman.” An examination of different aspects of life viz. economy, health, education, and cultural practices reveals this. Most of the women’s work is unpaid and invisible. When women accept gainful employment they are made to feel guilty. Muslim women’s situation is worse. It is becoming more difficult for Muslim women to live with dignity.
Muslim women in India are doubly disadvantaged – as a minority and as women. They find themselves caught between being loyal to their religious identity and a desire for freedom and equal rights within those communities. From being targeted in communal riots to having to defend and claim their rights, they are battling simultaneous challenges. Fatima Khan, a young and dynamic journalist from Gurgaon, threw light on what it means to be a Muslim woman in contemporary India in the present-day communal atmosphere. At the same time, she advocated that Muslim men should be just to the women in their families.
Gazala Wahab in her book ‘Born a Muslim ..’ shared her real-life stories and incidents recounting the journey of navigating through her faith. Her book highlights the insecurities and fears among the Muslims of the country amid rising Islamophobia and communal violence. She advocated that every woman should inculcate the following five attributes to achieve empowerment: (i) financial independence; (ii) educating and learning (iii) asking questions (iv)preserving oneself and (v) not fighting always to achieve her rights.
There is significant coverage of Muslim women in media, especially about their dress code. Real issues like health and education among Muslim women are neglected. A major part of the debate is done in an unpleasant and biased manner by politicians and the media. Muslim women journalists are also discriminated against at their workplace. They face harassment and their reportage is undermined. Whether the Indian media represents the interests or presents a subverted image of the Muslim community needs further exploration. To counter this, we need to have brave and sincere journalists.
According to World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India is ranked 140th out of 156 countries slipping 28 places on the list. Even though there has been a steady growth of skilled professionals among women, it is not significant enough as female representation in leadership positions is barely 27 percent. Entrepreneurship is challenging irrespective of gender but in the case of rural women and especially Muslim women, the challenges are much more. Ten female Soochanapreneurs from different parts of rural India shared their experiences and discussed solutions as social entrepreneurs in their respective geographic locations. They took digital training, started self-employment, and became empowered. These girls are supporting their parents and families. This has also dented the bias against the females in rural areas.
Meenakshi Gupta, Co-founder of Goonj, is passionate about Goonj’s work on mainstreaming and repositioning menstruation as a human issue beyond just women’s issues. Sometimes the silence on menstruation kills women. She narrated two stories. A rural woman in north India used a blouse with hooks as protection against menstrual bleeding. The hook was rusted, she developed tetanus and died. In south India, one rural woman used a cloth. Unfortunately in the cloth, a centipede was hiding. It entered her body and she died due to health complications. Especially in the rural areas, for menstruating women, no facilities to change, wash, to bathe exist. Talking about it is taboo. The Health and well-being of women go together. Therefore menstrual health must be given much more importance in our society.
Nilanjan Banik informed that NFHS-5 data reveal that for Muslim households, the health indicators are better. Washing hands five times a day seems to give this advantage to Muslims. Also, IMR among Muslims was found lower.
Shireen Azam, a Doctoral Researcher at Oxford University, pointed out that caste does exist among Muslims in India. However, there is invisibilization of this fact among Muslims. According to her majority of the Muslims belong to lower castes. Caste is linked with endogamy, hierarchy, and traditional occupations. As much as 70 percent of the Muslim leaders come from upper castes. So nobody talks about the issues of lower caste Muslims
Women in difficult situations: During the anti -CAA movement Muslim women were beaten up. In 2019, a 70-year-old Muslim woman was beaten up because she was participating in the movement. Today double oppression of women is taking place. The Indian state is also suppressing Muslim women.
Vahida Nainar, an independent researcher and consultant on women’s rights, observed that the Indian state conflicts with Muslims and some other communities. In India, we do not have laws to punish the type of crimes committed by police and state against Muslims. Even though India has ratified the International Convention on Genocide, it has not implemented it. India does not have laws against genocide and torture. Today the impunity of criminals is due to the breakdown of laws. So cases must be registered under common rape laws and murder laws. Another impediment is that to file a case against public servants, the permission of the state is necessary.
Gender and Religious bias: Amitabh Kundu, a well-known economist, presented his path-breaking study on labour market discrimination.) He quantified the discrimination in labour markets, especially in post-Covid times.
In rural areas, gender discrimination was 100 percent for all women because women did not go out to work during the pandemic. In urban areas, it was 90 percent.
In rural areas, Muslims did not face discrimination because they are employed in low-productive occupations and hardly any competition exists. The discrimination against Muslims in urban areas was as much high as 68 percent. He concluded that gender discrimination in India is critical. Also, the discrimination against Muslims in Urban areas is very high. This is a serious issue.