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Meritocracy isn’t working for Muslim women in India

Women with Hindu-sounding names received twice as much attention from hiring recruiters than women with Muslim-sounding names, studies show.

In June 2022, a social organization called Led By that offers professional mentoring for Muslim women, conducted a study where researchers sent out resumes with the names “Priyanka Sharma” and “Habiba Ali”. Over a period of eight months, every call back Habiba, the Muslim woman, got, Priyanka, the Hindu woman, got two.

The hiring bias, comparing majority Hindu women to minority Muslim women is that of 47.1%. What this means is that for the same role where both candidates apply, Hindu women have a 47.1% higher chance of getting a call back than Muslim women.

Beyond religion, gender is also a factor affecting prospective job applicants. OXFAM India worked to understand the gendered differences in India that lead to a discrimination in hiring between men and women. According to the study sexism in India is responsible for 98% of the discriminatory hiring bias that exists when hiring women. That means when a woman is going after the same job as a man, she will face 98% more discrimination than him.

Taking both studies together, Muslim women in India are disadvantaged due to both gender and religious biases.

But these biases affect women before they enter the workforce. Last year, Karnataka, a state in the south of India, banned girls who wore hijabs from entering into schools. The supreme court is ‘split’ in deciding whether or not to uphold state ban. Students who protested against this ban faced discrimination and harassment by the police and other conservative groups. This event led to 1050 practising Muslim girls between 15 and 18 dropping out of school.

Lawmakers argued that the ban was justified because hijabs lead to the oppression of Muslim women. However, a counter argument is that Muslim women should have their own agency in deciding for themselves how to express their religion, and whether or not the tenets of Islam are oppressive or freely chosen expressions of faith or culture.

Muslim girls and women in India face discrimination today that furthers their marginalisation, denying them even access to economic growth, making claims of a functioning meritocracy a joke.