Muslim and Woman: Two Intersections of My Experience

Women are not a homogeneous group. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, intersectionality refers to “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination… combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” (1) For example, within the Indian context, discrimination on the basis of gender can be exacerbated when the individual also belongs to a specific caste group.

Drawing on a self-reflection of being a Muslim woman in India, this blog explains my perspective of interconnected and overlapping identity to explain my experiences and journey of an individual with multiple identities. This blog explains the notion of inequality and intersectionality to explain my lived experiences with layered oppression and evolution as a self.

As a Muslim woman, I have experience which is very different from being just a woman. I’ll start with my political thought, which I need to control to share publicly because the fear is always there that if I am going to raise my voice, there will be a definite amount of hate comments which will tell me to deport to Pakistan, that I don’t love my country, or question my patriotism. It is the same with people who actually raise their voice, but the level of torture and harassment would be low in comparison to the people coming from the Muslim community, and especially if one is a woman.

In our own home and local societies, we need to be very careful about everything from as basic as dress up and hairstyle. Having a short hair cut, like bob cut, will act as shame and gossip to the society and our family will get societal isolation because as a Muslim women, I should have enough length of my hair which should cover my chest. And by any chance, I go out with open hair, I will be named as a bad woman who doesn’t have shame and respect.

A picture from my first Campaign on SRHR in the community of Delhi. (Picture Credit: Nikita Khanna).

If I talk about my educational experience as a Muslim woman, I have never seen more than three Muslim females in my own class, which was always above fifty. The highest number was in my high school which is three, two in graduation including me, and in the masters program just me. So, I have literally experienced the statistical data which shows in proportion to the population, Muslims are worse off than scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In my own family, my elder sister is the first in my whole joint family to complete her higher education for the first time and I am the second one.

We always dream about our first employment and wish to get our most desired organizations to work with…. As a newly postgraduate, I was also very excited to work with an organization I wished to get in, and with all hard work I finally got it and started working with them, but sadly, I left the organization within just two months because I had become one of the targets of Islamophobic mindsets in the place I traveled for work purpose and I was totally ready since the time I decided that I am going to be a social worker. But when my parents visited me and got to know about this, they got so scared that they put all the pressure on me to leave that place as soon as possible. 

I need to think twice to say that my favorite color is green because I love greenery and try to be around plants and trees as it gives very positive and happy energy to me. Every time someone asks about this and I start thinking “should I say the truth, is it a safe space or should I just escape the scary conversation or leading questions and say anything random”.  We all face challenges but the layers of challenges become higher when someone’s intersectional identities define and express themselves very differently to them.

Reference:

  1. Deshpande, Pallavi, et al. “Intersectionalities in Development Practice: Approaches and Anecdotes.” American India Foundation, Aug. 2020, aif.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/PPP-Volume-3.pdf.

Sahana is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Voluntary Integration for Education and Welfare of Society (VIEWS) in Gopalpur, Odisha. For her Fellowship project, she is supporting women self-help groups in launching social enterprises focused on organic farming practices to popularize the use of organic versus chemical fertilizers in the region. Sahana is a 23-year-old woman passionate to work towards gender equality. She has completed her Master’s degree in the discipline of social work with a specialization in rural development, mental health, disability, and counselling. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science. She has interned with Roshini, working with government school adolescent girls on life skills and creating a module on cyber security. She has also worked for the community in a slum in Delhi called Seelampur on different issues including gender, livelihood, education, and disability as part of her social work degree course. She was a part of the Youth Accountability Advocate (YAA), working towards understanding the needs of young people on sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a YAA member, she has been selected by the ‘Women Delivers’ in 2019 to share her experience and learnings in their international conference in Vancouver, Canada, with more than 8000 participants from all over the world. Sahana has been actively volunteering for an organisation called Pehchan for girls education in the peripheries of New Delhi. With AIF Clinton Fellowship, Sahana aspires to gain in-depth knowledge of the diversity in socio-economic, cultural, and educational fabric of India. She aims to hone her skills and build perspectives of working and solution generation in development sector.

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