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Women in Education: Women were denied access to education yet many women, time and again, stood up

Written by: Malak Tariq

This month, 8th March marked International Women's Day. This day highlights the achievements, recognizes the challenges and focuses on the rights of women.

Throughout history, women were denied access to their right for achieving their aspirations. Their access to gain educational, financial, political and cultural rights and agency was denied. Yet since time immemorial till date, women stood up with a voice! Some sang - some hummed, some roared and some whispered into the walls of oppression and made a difference.

Our spotlight is on some Women of the Subcontinent in the field of education where women worked and put in earnest efforts to promote liberty, safety and prosperity with education as a beacon of hope and freedom.

Here are 5 women who leveraged educational exposure and equality:

1. Shaheen Mistri is the CEO of Teach for India, and the Founder of Akanksha Foundation. She has earned global recognition for her dedication and commitment to the fight for educational equity.

She realised that children living in Mumbai’s city slums lacked access to quality education and were deprived of the skills necessary to compete in India’s formal, competitive job market. She founded the first Akanksha Centre in 1989, a non-profit education project that provides after-school tutoring to children from low-income communities. As the recognition of Akanksha’s work grew, Shaheen saw an opportunity to expand her reach even further and work for more transformative changes. She launched Teach for India in 2008. Since then, the organization has recruited, trained, and placed nearly 1,700 Fellows in schools across seven cities. Shaheen is an Ashoka Fellow (2001), a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (2002), and an Asia Society 21 Leader (2006). She also serves on the boards of Ummeed. Shaheen has a Master’s Degree in Education from the coveted University of Manchester, England.

2. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani advocate for girls' education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2009, when Malala was just 11 years old, she began blogging about life under the Taliban, speaking out directly against their threats to close girls’ schools. The blog on BBC Urdu garnered international attention, making her the target of death threats.

In October 2012, a gunman shot her and two other girls as they were coming home from school. Malala survived the attack and went on to publish the autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. In 2013, she founded the Malala Foundation to champion every girls’ right to education, and in 2014, she received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

3. Vimla Kaul

At 81, Vimla Kaul has been a teacher almost all her life. When she retired 20 years ago, she refused to enjoy the life of a retiree and instead, along with her husband, founded a school for the underprivileged. She knew she wanted to do something for society, and on one woman’s suggestion, she decided to teach the kids from the slums.

4. Roshni Mukherjee

Roshni Mukherjee established Exam Fear Education by quitting a well-paying job at an IT company. She was always a good student, had a passion for teaching, and always got good feedback about her teaching style from her college friends and relatives.

Roshni realized that even though everyone cannot afford quality education, the internet has the power to reach the nook and corners of the World, and can be harnessed for this purpose. She decided to run a virtual school by using the internet which reaches thousands of students all over the world who are willing to learn.

In 2011, she began uploading her teaching videos on YouTube while she was still employed with Wipro. She soon began to get positive responses, and after a while, she decided to dedicate her entire time towards Exam Fear.

Her teaching methods are simple. She explains the concepts of Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology, using examples from daily life. She uses pictorials and animations to simplify things. Her lessons are followed by questions and answers to help students apply the concepts learnt.

With over 4000 videos already uploaded and 75000 subscribers, Roshni has bigger plans. She wants to translate these videos into regional languages for students in remote locations who are less comfortable with English.

5. Mukta Dagli

Muktaben lost the gift of sight at the age of seven due to meningitis. But she did not give up. She went on to get a diploma in teacher’s training for the blind and also got herself a BA degree in Arts with first class. She wanted to do something for the blind community and especially, women.

Along with her husband, Pankajbhai Dagli, also visually impaired, she opened Pragnachaksu Mahila Seva Kunj – a nonprofit school for blind and visually impaired women in 1995 in Surendranagar, Gujarat. 400 students have graduated from this institute adorned with various skills like Computer coding in different languages and teaching apart from Braille studies. Some are even trained to become Electrical Engineers, Beauticians and Chefs. And there is no charge for learning!

Muktaben believes that apart from teaching life skills, she needs to teach her students to be fearless. She has arranged 164 successful marriages in the last decade where both the people in the marriage are visually impaired; Muktaben believes empathy is much more present in such an arrangement.

Muktaben and Pankajbhai decided never to have kids of their own but adopt thrown out blind girls to give them a better life.

Education is a fundamental right of every human being but also a privilege in our times. Access to education is not linear and there are many women who came forward to reclaim their agency and spread education for one and all. We should first acknowledge and respect the struggles and achievements of all women around us who possess minds, hearts and souls of their own that can leave an impact.

This blog belongs to Kaksha Learning, a platform dedicated to holistic learning that focuses on learning through reading stories and learning stuff that matters for children.

The platform is founded by two women – Tarini Khurana and Anam Majeed.

Here’s wishing more power to all the women standing at the forefront to spread and share the gift of education.

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