Mahmooda Khaliq

2003 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow/Medtronic Fellow
Fellowship Site: Minnesota International Health Volunteers (Uganda and Minnesota)

By Pat McGroarty

Mahmooda Khaliq’s 2003 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship in Uganda was only a chapter in a life led in the constant presence of human rights issues. Through her work with the Human Rights Center and Minnesota International Health Volunteers (MIHV), Khaliq has become an example of one person’s power to change the state of human rights in her community.

“I’ve been interested in human rights since an early age because of my history relating to it,? she said. Khaliq was born in Pakistan and raised as a member of a religious minority group known as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The Ahmadiyya community is in all ways similar to traditional Islam, but centers on one major additional belief, “Orthodox Muslims believe that Muhammad was the final and only law-bearing prophet, and while Ahmadis agree, they think there can be other lesser prophets, such as the founder Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who will renew the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Ahmadiyyat rejuvenates Islamic moral and spiritual values. It encourages interfaith dialogue, and diligently defends Islam and tries to correct misunderstandings about Islam in the West.?

With Pakistan’s independence in 1947, anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment began to grow among the Muslim majority, culminating in a constitutional amendment passed in 1974 that classified Ahmadiyya Muslims as non-Muslims and non-citizens of the country. “This amendment basically means that Ahmadiyya’s could not vote, they could not progress past a certain level in their jobs, they could not assemble for religious conventions, or for that matter assemble in large numbers to offer prayer in mosques. There are a number of human rights violations against the Ahmadiyya Muslims, such as freedom of speech, assembly, movement, due process before law and lack of the right to profess one’s faith or to choose elected officials ,? said Khaliq.

Due to such persecution it was necessary for Khaliq’s father to leave Pakistan in 1988 to continue his education. He moved his family to Mankato, Minnesota where he is now a professor.

Khaliq remained interested in human rights issues during high school and college, where her studies and activities centered on global awareness issues. She majored in Physiology and Political Science at the University of Minnesota and originally planned on entering medical school. However, her plans changed when she discovered a field that could join her two greatest humanitarian interests, “I was interested in Medicine as well as Political Science both focusing on human rights, and the best field that combined the policy-making aspect with a health related field was public health.?

Khaliq interned at MIHV as a part of her thesis project while obtaining her master’s degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. This organization is committed to improving the health of women, children, and communities around the world. Domestically, MIHV also sponsors international health courses and has recently launched a number of programs aimed at improving the health of Minnesota’s large immigrant and refugee population. Khaliq’s work focuses on maternal and child health programs in Minnesota’s growing Somali population. In addition to her work with the local Somali community, Khaliq hoped for the opportunity to promote public health issues abroad but found funding for such programs very limited.

It was then that a friend told her about the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship Program. “I had been looking for an opportunity to go overseas and promote the work that I’d been doing through MIHV, but MIHV did not have the funding to support it. This Fellowship gave me a lot of flexibility in proposing a project,? said Khaliq, “My Fellowship proposal was to establish a women’s health and human rights center, by working with MIHV field staff in Uganda to expand the existing Cecie Goetz Education and Resource Center. The center would address health and human rights through such issues as reproductive and sexual health, gender health, children’s health and HIV/AIDS and its impact on discrimination, stigmatization and denial.?

She hoped to convert an existing room in MIHV’s Cecie Goetz Education and Resource Center in Ssembabule, Uganda into a Health and Human Rights Center. After receiving a fellowship grant in 2003 she spent much of the summer researching the human rights and HIV/AIDS crisis in Uganda and gathering information and resources to be distributed at the proposed Center.

When Khaliq arrived in Uganda in October of 2003, she found the needs of the local community to be much more immediate than she had imagined:

“Health and Human Rights is a field that’s important, but at the stage [the local people] were in, it wasn’t something that they were looking for. They were looking for someone to help cure symptoms of the disease, the disease itself, or they were looking for someone to take care of orphans of the AIDS epidemic, or they were looking for a source of food, water and basic necessities.?

The Ssembabule district of Uganda has only two doctors for nearly 250,000 residents, and even those physicians hold largely administrative positions. People rely on midwives or traditional healers for medical care, and educating people about basic methods of sanitation and health care is crucial.

She shifted the center’s focus from a library and resource center to a place to provide some sort of immediate health and social care: “There is a library now, but it’s not to the level we had wanted. The fellowship switched to working with MIHV’s existing programs and working to expand and strengthen them further. As part of her fellowship, Khaliq met with key stakeholders in Uganda and informed them about the needs of the community in Ssembabule and the need for preventative as well as curative programs. Through her work, she met with members of Parliament, local community based organizations, non-governmental organizations, community leaders and health workers, inter-governmental agencies and the US ambassador.

After returning from her Fellowship, Khaliq was hired by MIHV as a full-time employee. She continues to research and develop the Health and Human Rights Center and hopes to return to Uganda in the near future. Much of her time is also spent working on MIHV’s domestic programs.

“My work [in Minnesota] has been influenced by the experience I had meeting with people in Uganda. A lot of my work is with the Somali refugee population. Many of the programs focus on increasing access by empowering and educating the community,? said Khaliq.

Among the local MIHV programs she works with are the Somali Family Planning and Child Spacing Project. The program provides both healthcare providers and the Somali community with culturally sensitive health education on reproductive health issues.

Despite the vast differences in human rights conditions in Uganda and Minnesota, Khaliq points out the similarities in health issues for the Ugandan and Somali communities:

“In Uganda, the resources may exist but community members lack knowledge about them because of immediate needs, like fetching water, gathering wood, securing income, or providing for one’s children. It’s the same thing with the Somali population. They come here as refugees and their immediate needs are to find a job, find housing, and to support their children. They have no idea how to access health resources. In both situations, the role of MIHV is to act in-between the community and the resources.?
Khaliq plans to continue her involvement with Public Health issues through her work at MIHV and is also considering doctoral work in Public Health, focusing specifically on issues of safe motherhood and infant mortality reduction. She would love the opportunity to promote Public Health in Pakistan and hopes to do so in the future. Khaliq concluded by saying:

“People need to understand that intrinsically, because you are human, you have certain rights. Our system of basic rights (free speech and others) is necessary so that if you have a government or system violating your basic and fundamental rights, you have the know-how and the might to fight it.?


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