My father E. Ahamed had always been an advocate of women empowerment through education. He would often say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. He wanted women to be empowered to take decisions that affected them and their communities, and stand up for their rights. He always ensured that women are educated so that they can take care of themselves and their families.
In the late 70s, it was not a norm for girls to go for higher education, especially among Moplah muslims in our region. Boys were responsible for earning for the family while the girl was groomed to make sure she could run the family. It was a transition phase when girls had started coming out of their shell. But very few got beyond grade 12 in the Moplah community. It is in this backdrop, that the openness of my parents, to educate me, becomes commendable.
He conceptualized and put into place many educational institutions as his own pet projects. What he did for the community, he also practiced at home. Right from kindergarten, my education was a priority. There never was a gender bias in my family. I never felt that there was a difference in what was expected of me or my brothers just because I was a girl or because they were boys.
Other than for safety issues, regulations were the same for all three of us. I have to really appreciate my parents for that, as this gave me a broader perspective of equality. Even in day to day activities, my mom’s decisions were highly valued.
This led to the conviction, from my early childhood, that I had to go for higher education. I was allowed to follow my dream career. I shifted from art to poetry, and then to medicine, but I was allowed to choose. I put in my best and the progress card was carefully checked by him as they arrived every term, with encouraging comments.
The advice that he constantly gave in his conversations taught me and my brothers how to face life. He shared his values with us and helped us mold our own thoughts. He encouraged us to participate in school activities and projects. Just as we learnt to be modest and humble from mother, she also taught us to be firm in our decisions and to be very careful about our choices. My dad taught us to strive for the best and to excel. I personally, gained a lot of support from my teachers and friends as I was emulating my parents.
In fact, it drove me to do my best all the time. I knew that I was getting a chance that only few others were getting. Therefore, I was constantly motivated to try my best and achieve what I wanted to be. In those days, among the few options for higher education that were attainable, the medical career was the choice of the whole class. A good number chose engineering. Only small numbers opted for other professions. So, the competition was stiff.
The gender gap, which seemed to widen in the 80s, disturbed my father. He realized that there needs to be good school where girls should be educated. The DIS (Deenul Islam Sabha) school in Kannur was born out of this desire. Many more initiatives followed and then what happened is history.
Looking back, one can clearly see how the school has changed the gender bias in that area. He proudly tells me how it has improved the whole community. In the same community, which was reluctant to send girls to school, you will not find a single girl who has not gone to college now. They are all able to talk for themselves and run families while managing their own jobs successfully. The choice is in their hands.
Countrywide statistics show that in Kerala, the higher education gender gap is narrowing. The district level indicators show that backward pockets exist even in areas where the overall rate of female education is good. The natural next step is to promote higher education.
My father continued to contribute in the education sector with a lot of passion. He thus, turned his focus towards higher education, be it girls or boys. Aligarh University Off-Campus in Malappuram and Hamdard University branch in Kannur were his pet projects. I have seen how he personally planned out every step. I have visited the Delhi campus of Hamdard University with him. He took a lot of pride in these institutions and boasted about “his own” students in Kerala to them.
Now the responsibility is with the new generation. From the unfortunate news about recent campus clashes, I feel that the new generation has taken it for granted. Just look around you! You are blessed to have these resources. It is high time you take your education seriously. It is character building that is the most important part of education. Buildings or institutions will not teach students. Progress will happen only when the students, staff and the institution work hand in hand towards transformation. We will have more leaders bringing you more universities and courses, which are focus and skill-driven.
Learning will be enhanced with partnership and collaboration. We have to bring in students from other states as mixing of cultures will enhance learning. Let not the students of today get caught in the differences of caste, creed or religion. Let’s not discriminate based on the community, locality or state. This is the time to learn. Let’s learn from each other and make the best of this time.
To achieve this, we have to make sure that values and respect should be taught right from kindergarten. This should be emphasized throughout their formative years. Let our children learn to respect women and give them their fair share. If these values of equality are not instilled in young minds, there will be no respite from gender bias.
Our great leaders have worked relentlessly to establish these institutions. The institution will not teach you what you don’t want to learn from it. It is your choice whether to make use of it or not. In order to succeed, you first need to respect others. Every action should be guided by strong principles. Stay away from anything that will disrespect others. And success will follow you.
So, join hands and allow our education to transform ourselves.
Transform our communities. Transform our nation. Transform the world for the best.
(The author is the director of Institutional Effectiveness Unit at Dubai Medical College and also a faculty member in the Department of Pathology. A fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Glasgow), she has a fellowship in instructional technology from University of South Florida. Currently, she is a global faculty discussant of JMHPE listserv of Maastricht University and Suez Canal University.)