Working for the World's Women
Born on the small island nation of Mauritius, off the coast of East Africa, Humaira Hansrod has become a citizen of the world who is finely attuned to women's struggle for human rights.
With a 2012 Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship for research, Hansrod (Macaulay Honors College at City College, BS in economics and political science, 2012) will examine the promising changes in Oman, where Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said responded to the Arab Spring with pledges of economic and political reforms.
"From my readings and conversations with persons in the country, Omani women seem to be making significant progress," says Hansrod, who was traveling in the Middle East in June. "My interest is in women’s economic participation, and statistics show that the government is promoting policies to encourage women's labor force participation in all sectors."
Oman, like the Gulf region, takes a conservative stance when it comes to women's work. Throughout the region, female poverty is rife, as are restrictions on how women can work and behave. But in Oman, she says, women appear to be "defying many of those assumptions we in the West have about Gulf - and Arab - women in general."
"If women are making as much progress as I'm assuming they are economically and educationally in Oman, this rejects the convention that traditional Arab/Muslim states are incompatible with women's economic freedom," she says. "Yes, there are hyper-conservative countries where women's progress is slower, but Oman's success would be an encouragement to women in both the conservative and liberal Arab states that women can be recognized and rewarded for their work."
Hansrod says her research will be "about and for the countless women who today are struggling to find their voice through their work. It is about helping them help themselves, about debunking the justifications for Arab/Muslim women's lack of economic rights, and situating the critical roles that governments can - and should - play in advancing the cause of the other half of their populations, which in many cases has been neglected."
She intends to begin her research in December and doesn't expect it to be easy to view the full scope of change. "This is a complicated subject, and I'm trying to keep an open mind, although I recognize that I'm going in with a set of assumptions already," she says. "I'm expecting the unexpected."
At 13, Hansrod left polyglot Mauritius, a country of blended ethnicities and a spectrum of religions (Hindu 48 percent, all Christian 32 percent, Muslim 17 percent, according to the 2000 census), for polyglot New York City. She attended the diverse International High School in Long Island City, which is designed for newcomers to the United States, before winning the full scholarship that Macaulay Honors College provides.
While pursuing her double major at City College, she used her $7,500 Macaulay Opportunities Fund allocation for travel in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, living with families and studying Arabic, a language she is still learning. "Building my fluency is top-priority now," she says. The fund supported her independent study/senior thesis on women's rights in the Middle East.
She was chosen as a fellow of the Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Public Service at City College and was named one of its Dobrich New Americans Scholars from 2010-2012. The Powell fellowship and Macaulay program "have allowed me the opportunity to explore the world of opportunities outside campus and helped me shape a vision of the world from my own experiences as well as the theories I learned in class," she says. "When I was a student, I rarely saw myself as a Macaulay or Powell student. It's only in retrospect that I realize how much both have propelled me to pursue my interests in rather unconventional ways."
She deepened her understanding of other nations and peoples through the Model United Nations, an academic organization that operates intercollegiate conferences and can be taken for credit. She joined the City College team after hearing a speech about it at the Macaulay freshmen orientation and stuck with it throughout her undergraduate years. She calls it "the highlight of my time at CCNY. From the people I've met to the conferences I've participated in, I learned so much about the world through it."
Hansrod is leaving her future options open. "I don't want to say I'm only going to go to grad school, because I think it's also a fair pursuit to do policy-related work in government or an NGO or a civic center," she says in an interview posted on the Powell Center website. "But if a graduate degree is going to help me become a stronger advocate, then, sure, I'll pursue that, God willing."