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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Literacy classes held by Sharjah resident herald social change 

Education has made the once uneducated women of Badagaon village in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh confident enough to stand up to government officials.

Women have their worked checked in a free literacy class in Uttar Pradesh. Courtesy Kidwai family
Women have their worked checked in a free literacy class in Uttar Pradesh. Courtesy Kidwai family

Literacy classes organised by Sharjah resident Shazia Kidwai are prompting village women to find their voice, speak up and challenge authority both within and outside their homes.

The once uneducated women of Badagaon village in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh have stood up to government officials not doing their jobs, acted on savings schemes in newspapers and begun conversations at home against child marriage.

The women are encouraged by topics discussed in makeshift classrooms held in the homes of teachers from their community.

Teacher Seema Qasim Khan is a graduate who wants to study fashion design but her family cannot support her through college. Instead she transfers some of her knowledge to her neighbours.

“We have told them to raise their voices and put their feelings forward. Before if there was any question they would stay quiet. Now if there is something wrong at home they will speak up. We talk about everything here so they can learn more than just from books, it’s not only about studies,” the 20-year-old said.

The women are also encouraged to question officials who postpone work.

“We tell them if you go to an office and they say they don’t have time and tell you to come again later, don’t accept this. You should ask, ‘Why is there no time. We are on time so why is our work not being done?’" Ms Khan said.

Illiterate women who once stood inside a bank holding a form until they found someone to fill it for them, are now independent, she said.

They read newspapers and magazines and begin discussions in class.

The programme has also been an academic success with former school dropouts who attended classes enrolling in high school programmes.

The teachers are picked from within the village by Shazia Kidwai who began the free classes in 2011 to teach young Muslim girls in her hometown. The daily sessions are funded with support from her family and her personal savings.

“I want them to be aware of developments around them and be able to respond to situations they encounter. The feeling of recognition and proving themselves adds to their personalities,” said Ms Kidwai, who supervises the classes via the telephone and when on holiday in her hometown.

Teacher Nida Ansari, 18, is a graduate unable to pursue studying sociology due to funds required for a post-graduate degree.

She has turned her attention to teaching women to read and write.

She tells her students that being illiterate can have consequences. The example she gives them is about two girls, both named Reshma, who took the wrong medication.

“When the doctor in the hospital called out a name, one girl picked up the other’s medicine. She had a fever that got worse and her body was filled with boils, rash and allergy. The medicine was meant for the other Reshma. It could have been life threatening. I tell them my students without learning there can be suffering,” Ms Ansari said.