** No matter how big or small, every contribution matters**
My name is Sahreen and I hold an offer at the University of Oxford for the Master of Public Policy program. I am the first girl from Kashmir to be offered this course at this prestigious university.
The civil society of Kashmir and a few bureaucrats well-acknowledged my achievement. To know more, you may refer to below coverages:
1. Greater Kashmir article and video
2. Siasat Daily
3. Gulf News
I was born in a very traditional family where my parents worked extremely hard to put me in one of the best schools in Kashmir. They would tell me “we wear socks with holes to be able to give you the best education”. I used to think this was a bit dramatic, but I now understand where they were coming from.
In Kashmir, political tensions and escalations have resulted in schools remaining shut for months at a stretch amidst curfews and lockdown, which has had a direct impact on my studies and education. Derived by experience, my parents were extremely obsessed with conventional career courses. Constant internet cutoffs and lack of mentorship meant I had very little knowledge of what lay outside of my small world. So I was pushed into engineering, which I did for a while. However, my affinity for social science led me to economics.
I had a hard time convincing my family to give my choices the same respect that they would give others. I had to turn down incredible career opportunities because my family believed that the idea of a woman working outside the home state would bring questions to the honour of my family. “Do you have plans to feed yourself on your daughter’s earnings” my father would hear from his acquaintances. For a long time, I tried to suppress my feelings and appear for certain conventional exams in Kashmir. After clearing two stages of a government exam, it suddenly dawned upon me it could be the end of my dreams. So I packed my bags and sought permission from my father to allow me to work on my dreams. This time he didn’t stop me but added that if I wanted to prove that careers can be made in the social sciences and that girls can be sent outside Kashmir without bringing disgrace to their families, I might have to prove it wrong, to him and to the society he fears.
That is when my journey began. I started working with an NGO which provided skill training to women at the grassroots. The work brought me closer to the lived realities of women of rural areas as I spent a substantial amount of time understanding the structural oppression faced by them. A major obstacle was that often many women artisans were not allowed to work beyond their village boundaries. A major portion of my time went into convincing their male counterparts to “allow” women to work. By the time I left that organisation, we had helped a group of women set up a small business and establish market linkages with potential vendors.
In my next organisation, I worked as a CSR professional in sectors of education, healthcare and the environment. I progressed up the ranks and represented my organisation at the United Nations to work and share progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the course of my work, I have met many women and one such woman was Sadhiya from a school which we were trying to refurbish. She looked like a good 14-year-old to me, so I asked her which stream had she chosen for higher studies? Slightly abashed she answered, “I am in class UKG, girls in our family were not allowed to study back then” and that was it.
The degrees to which Sadhiya had suffered are no way comparable to mine, but stories like these solidify my quest to create a space for women where they don't have to be apologetic for making their own choices.
What have I done?
I have a bachelor’s in Economics, Mathematics and Statistics and a master’s in Economics where I scored the highest record-breaking the highest record of previous cohort’s. As a college student, I identified the inability of the women workers at our college and around it to afford menstrual hygiene. With help from the faculty, I motivated a group of skilled volunteers to manufacture sanitary napkins on college premises. I also facilitated coordination with NGOs and government schools across the city. Within two years we shipped 10,000 pads costing $0.28 for a packet.
My past experiences made me realise that there lies a mismatch in existing policies and the continuously changing policy challenges. I decided to equip myself with skills which can help me understand the various social, political and economic factors contributing to the complex social problems. My decision to apply to the University of Oxford emerged out of a strong conviction to give back to my people, and especially the children of Kashmir whose education continues to be affected by conflict even today.
Back home, I want to work in the education sector, particularly with the hiccuping school system. I want to focus on making schools accessible and safe for the young ones, especially the girls. By working in the field with teachers, students, parents and administrative stakeholders, and in planned conjunction with the policy space, my aim is to reduce dropout rates, enhance conflict-sensitive education, achieve constant learning engagement and inculcate a sense of joy and motivation in the entire learning process. I wish to learn these skills during my course at Oxford. The idea behind my long term goal is simple- bridge the gap between Kashmir and the rest of the world.
With this degree in hand, my family now says that they are happy about being proven wrong and would advise girls from the younger generation to dream bigger and fly higher.
What do I want from you?
Owing to the pandemic a lot of foundations have shied away from giving scholarships which have resulted in a huge dearth of funding opportunities. I have already secured a 50% scholarship from the University and have for a partial loan. Because the fee is immense, I need your help to realise my dream of creating a better Kashmir which thrives on knowledge and justice.
I would humbly request you to support me in the best of your capacity and share my word with friends & family. Your support can change lives and inspire young girls like me to dream bigger and fly higher.
In case you have any queries, please feel free to reach me out on firstname.lastname@example.org