Winning a Fulbright Scholarship for 2012–2013 will enable Humaira Hansrod to examine support for women's economic empowerment in the Middle East country of Oman. Humaira, a native of Maurititus who moved to Queens as a young teenager, will graduate from the Macaulay Honors College at CCNY in May with a double major in political science and economics. The Center spoke with her recently about her project and its evolution.
Tell us about your Fulbright Project. It’s about how specific government policies in Oman are promoting an active role in economic development for women, especially for women who are not so educated and are pursuing work in less formal occupations. The government is providing them with credit and skills so they can build their businesses and participate economically. Oman is a particular case because the government, especially the leader of the government, the Sultan Qaboos bin Said, has actively promoted increased participation by women, especially in rural areas. This is a rarity among Middle East countries, especially among Gulf countries as traditional as Oman.
What motivated you to pursue this project? I’ve always been interested in women’s rights and economics. So it was interesting to me to find this bridge between economics and policy because women’s work is an economic issue, but the right to work is a political issue. I have to say the kinds of access I’ve had to policy issues and to building my understanding of policy issues at the Powell Center has been key in helping me forge these links.
How does this issue affect women you've met in the Middle East? I’ve lived with local families in every place I’ve been to, and have observed and participated in the kinds of daily interactions that they [and their extended families] engage in. They’re really limited as to what they can do. They’re struck by poverty and have little ability to pursue their interests, but they still are hopeful that if they can’t achieve the kind of economic prosperity they want, they will do what it takes so their children will able to achieve the success they want, even if it means working low-paying jobs or facing domestic violence. These women know their plight is a difficult one, but they take it as something that can be overcome, if not by them then by their children.
What are your long-terms goals? My interest in the Middle East and especially in women’s rights and their role in economic development is a strong one, but I’d like to leave my 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. But if a graduate degree is going to help me become a stronger advocate then, sure, I’ll pursue that, God willing.