In today’s world, Muslim women are apparently breaking the stereotypes, creating history by becoming leaders, and getting achievements in their respective fields. One of them is Mohna Ansari, who became Nepal’s first female Muslim Lawyer.
In November 2014, Mohna Ansari received a telephone call from the office of Nepal’s prime minister. They asked her to join the Nepal Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the government body tasked with safeguarding human rights.The lawyer from a lower middle-class Muslim family in the southern city of Nepalgunj says she couldn’t quite believe it. “I never believed that I would get this. In my family, nobody is in politics,” Ansari, now a commissioner at the NHRC, explains.
Her position is the highest held by a Muslim woman in Nepal’s modern history.
“Hard work has paid off,” the 39-year-old says. Her rise has also been seen as a reflection of the change that has been taking place in Nepal since the monarchy was abolished in 2006 after a decade of Maoist rebellion. As the only woman in the five-member commission, which has tackled issues such as security force excesses and gender discrimination, Ansari says: “It’s very difficult to operate.”
Her journey of becoming Law Graduate
Her family’s sole source of income was her father’s carpentry shop. However, Ansari explains that her “parents are illiterate, so they wanted their kids to be educated and to have careers in different sectors.”
“In Nepal, Muslim parents generally don’t want to send their kids to formal education at secular institutions,” Ansari explains. However, she “went to a co-ed government school”. Still, she wasn’t given the same opportunities as her brothers in her family, like so many others in this nation of 27 million people, where it is believed that “sons will look after [the family], while daughters will go”. “My brothers went to a boarding school, and I went to a government school,” Ansari says. “But I am happy they sent me to a school where I got my education – not only Islamic, but also a modern education.”
But financial issues plagued her college education and she was forced to drop out after her first year. She returned three years later upon getting a scholarship. “Later, I enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in Law from Mahendra Multiple College – the only government college in Nepalgunj – and passed in 2003,” she explains. During her studies, she supported herself by teaching in schools and working as a private tutor. She also found time to write articles about issues affecting women and children for local newspapers.
Ansari became the first in her family to graduate and the first woman law graduate from the Muslim community, which forms just under five percent of the country’s population which is typically poor with low levels of education. But in a small town like Nepalgunj, her legal career struggled to take off. Most of her clients were poor, vulnerable women. But, she explains, “It was too difficult to begin my career in Kathmandu with my background. My family supported me all along,” she says, describing how she went on to work for leading global NGOs.
Before joining the NHRC, she was a commissioner at the National Women Commission (NWC) for four years, her first major government assignment. In 2012, she was honored by the president with the Suprabal Jana Sewa Shree award, a presidential medal for public service. That same year, she received the Nava Devi Award, which recognizes Nepal’s female role models and achievers.
She has become a source of pride for many in the Muslim community. Hopefully, we will get to hear more from Mohna Ansari. Hopefully, the world will be able to witness her and many other powerful and extraordinary Muslim women.