At UC Press, open access—the free, immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed research and scholarly work—is central to our mission. In celebration of 2018 International Open Access Week (October 22-28), we are highlighting several open access publishing programs and initiatives at UC Press. You can follow our full OA Week 2018 blog series here.

Shenila Khoja-Moolji is Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College. Her work examines the interplay of gender, race, religion, and power in transnational contexts, particularly in relation to Muslim populations. Her book Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: The Production of Desirable Subjects in Muslim South Asia published in July.


Shenila Khoja-Moolji teaching at Global Encounters in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo Credit: Shaherose Jamal

UC Press: Congratulations on the publication of your book, Forging the Ideal Educated Girl!

Shenila Khoja-Moolji: Thank you so much! Alhumdulillah!

UC Press: Forging the Ideal Educated Girl was published open accessmeaning that anyone, anywhere with an internet connection, can download a copy and read it for free. What made you decide to publish your book in an open-access format, and through UC Press’s Luminos program’s Islamic Humanities series?

Shenila Khoja-Moolji: I am enormously grateful to my editor, Reed Malcolm, for suggesting it and to the Aga Khan Islamic Humanities at Brown University for funding it. Since I discuss the shifting constitution of the figure of the educated girl in the context of colonial India and Pakistan, I wanted the book to be accessible to readers in that part of the world as well. Through Luminos readers anywhere can download the book for free! Eliminating the pricing barrier is so crucial for the untethered circulation of knowledge and ideas. Of course, readers who prefer a print copy can order that too. The Luminos platform, therefore, was a perfect fit for my work.

UC Press: This week is Open Access Week, and the theme of this year’s OA Week is “Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge.” A look at some of the reader demographics for your book shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that 11% of readers reside in Pakistan and India, and fully 46% of your readers reside outside of the US. Was this what you were expecting?

Shenila Khoja-Moolji: That is wonderful! I did recently see reviews in newspapers in Bangladesh and Pakistan, so I was pleased with that. However, I did not expect such a high percentage of readers to be outside South Asia and the US. It just goes to show what a commitment to open access knowledge can do—it allows our work to travel, reach audiences, and circulate in ways we never predicted!

UC Press: Regarding the thesis of your book, one reviewer noted that “[a]cross the world stage, policymakers and journalists envision an ideal Muslim girl as someone equipped with the most effective tool for fighting against their own oppressive local patriarchies and cultures—an education.” How is that common understanding not quite right?

Shenila Khoja-Moolji: The inspiration for the book is the ongoing convergence on the figure of the girl in international development policy and practice. There are numerous campaigns and projects focusing on girls’ education and empowerment: Girl Effect, Let Girls Learn, Because I am a Girl, Global Girls Alliance, etc. In this discourse girls in the global South are portrayed as not only threatened by poverty, disease, and terrorism, but also as holding the potential to resolve these very issues. Crucially, education is often presented as the primary social practice that can enable girls to re-shape and re-invent themselves. The argument is that if girls go to school, they will delay marriage, childbearing, enter the labor force and pull themselves, their families, and nations out of poverty.

I argue that this line of reasoning—which is very powerful—shifts the burden of development and ending poverty onto black and brown girls, without due consideration to how poverty is political and an effect of historical relations. Girls are called on to re-shape themselves into flexible labor for the neoliberal economy. I also prompt readers to inquire into the kind of girlhood that is portrayed as being desirable because “successful girlhood” is often premised on white, middle-class sensibilities. Girls who due to structural disadvantages cannot enact this form of girlhood become the specter of failed girlhood.

So, in the book I trace these transnational anxieties and hopes linked to the figure of the girl in relation to colonial India and Pakistan. Overall, I argue that discourses on girls’ education are often not just about gender, but are intricately linked with expressions of social class, imperatives of nation-building, and performances of piety.

UC Press: Thank you for being a trailblazing author and making your book open access, and happy Open Access Week 2018!

Shenila Khoja-Moolji: Thank you for the opportunity! Happy Open Access Week 2018 to you as well!