Kausar Ansari has come a long way since her first job. Today, she is a leader at Awaaz-e-Niswaan, an AJWS grantee that supports Muslim women and girls in Mumbai to stay in school and pursue careers. But at age 14, she worked in a garment factory, where she earned only 700 rupees a month—about $10 USD.
She tried other jobs, too. Cleaning houses. Hauling water to apartments on upper floors. But no matter how hard Kausar worked, her family didn’t earn enough to make ends meet. Her mother decided it was time to marry her off. Kausar was just 15. Her husband, 42.
“I felt like a maid there, not his wife,” Kausar said. Her husband ordered her to stay at home, afraid she might discover more appealing prospects if she ventured beyond the house.
Kausar described this as a typical restriction on teenage girls in India, married or not. “When you reach puberty, it’s as if you are trapped in your house,” she said. “Girls aren’t allowed to talk to boys, and they are stopped from attending school after 10th grade.”
Awaaz eventually helped Kausar secure a divorce and the freedom that came with it. Since then, she’s been running programs at Awaaz that help teenage girls gain confidence and pursue opportunities that she never had. She also went back to school for the first time since 7th grade and finished her bachelor’s degree in 2011.
Looking back, Kausar believes she found the strength to stand up for herself after meeting the women of Awaaz. Not just the ones who worked there, but the women still fighting to free themselves from all kinds of oppression.
“Talking to each other gave us a lot of confidence,” Kausar said. “This gives a lot of strength to women, it gives us a push. The Awaaz workshop helps us see our lives differently … I’m a woman, but I can do all the work that a man can—and do it better than him.”
All photos by Jonathan Torgovnik
Elizabeth Daube is a Senior Communications Officer at AJWS.