Muslims are the largest minority community in India at 14.2% (Census 2011). However, according to the Sachar Committee Report (2006) this community is seriously lagging behind in terms of most of the human development indicators. Studies reiterate that Muslim women are amongst the most disadvantaged, economically impoverished, and politically marginalized section of Indian society.
'A safe space' for a Muslim woman is seen as being within the boundaries of home and community. Hence beyond the walls of the home and the ghetto, the outside world is seen as unsafe and hostile. Ironically, the sense of 'security' in the ghetto is offset by the complete neglect by municipal and government authorities. Water, sanitation, electricity, schools, public health facilities, banking facilities, anganwadis, ration shops, roads, and transport facilities are all in short supply in these areas. These gaps impact the women disproportionately, leaving them out of the loop of development.
The majority of Muslim women are engaged in the informal sector â€”self-employed in low-paying often semi-skilled home-based work, casual labourers, domestic workersâ€”a sector characterised by low wages, poor working conditions, lack of social security and absence of bargaining power due to sub-contracted work through middle-men. The purdah and cultural restrictions are invariably sited as the sole explanation for Muslim women's low work-force participation rate. However, low education, lack of skills, lack of access to credit and markets, low mobility and domestic constraints, combine to hold back these women.
Ghettoization has increased the seclusion of poor Muslim home-based women workers, hindering their ability to organise into collectives. Muslim women have minimal participation in Government micro-finance programmes such as self-help groups, watershed programmes and panchayati raj. There is hardly any access to, or awareness of, Government schemes. Freedom of movement and decision-making indices indicate the low level of autonomy of Muslim women in India.
It is in this context that CEQUIN works towards the empowerment of women from underprivileged and vulnerable minority communities, in urban and rural areas.