The 18-year-old Muslim helps support her diabetic mother, father and five siblings by working as a maid while also taking free vocational classes at the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).
“I can’t think of having a comfortable life until I graduate or learn some skills so that I get a good job to feed my family. I think education is the only guarantee which can change my life,” Khatoon told Khabar South Asia.
The teenager is an exception.
Poverty, according to advocates, prevents many Indian Muslim girls from taking that first step toward improving their lives: pursuing educational opportunities that could open new paths of economic opportunity and empowerment.
“We encourage and appreciate the women who want to learn different skills to earn a livelihood so that they could cope with the poverty,” Shabistan Gaffar, chairwoman of the All India Confederation for Women’s Empowerment Through Education (AICWETE), told Khabar.
AICWETE and other women’s rights advocates and NGOs are rallying to end the cycle of poverty that entraps Muslim women, prevents them from becoming educated and keeps them largely illiterate.
Iqra Quraishi, who leads training programmes for young Muslim women in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, described how women can be held back by the very condition from which they’re trying to break free.
“Girls are unable to go to school as the income of their parents is very low, therefore they can’t afford it. Boys are given preference as parents think that they will share their burden,” Quraishi said.
“There is no dearth of talent among Muslim girls, but unfortunately financial restrictions and lack of opportunities is a serious issue before us, which the government is unable to resolve,” said Noorun Nahar Firdausi, president of the Professional Minority Women Welfare Association.
Quraishi said, “We are caught up in many situations and we have to fight on so many fronts. But I urge all my sisters not to give up under any circumstances and try to seek education and learn skills with dedication and determination, as this is the only way to bring change in life.”