Khansa Maria, a student at Qatar Foundation partner Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), has been named a winner of a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford in the UK.
She will use the Rhodes, one of the most prestigious and selective postgraduate degree scholarships in the world, to pursue a master’s degree in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation after graduating at the end of the academic year in 2021.
With her degree, the GU-Q student hopes to become an effective policy maker for inclusive development in Pakistan.
Maria has already conducted significant research on disability rights through an Undergraduate Research Experience Programme grant from the Qatar National Research Fund (UREP24-215-5-041) to study employment challenges faced by people with disabilities in Qatar.
Her Honours in the Major thesis examines the trajectory of the disability rights movement within South Asia through the lens of literature.
GU-Q dean Dr Ahmad Dallal said: “For an undergraduate applying to graduate school, there are few distinctions that can surpass a Rhodes Scholarship in prestige.
“We are immensely proud of our student Khansa for this outstanding achievement, and we look forward to following her academic journey beyond Georgetown as she builds on the important policy research that began right here at Qatar Foundation.
“Khansa personifies the values of a Georgetown education: critical thinking and responsible and ethical action.”
Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Maria has been blind since birth and has had to contend with social stigma and an educational system that lacked inclusive educational policies.
Undaunted, and with the support of her family, she made it her mission to confront both the cultural and structural barriers that perpetuate harmful stereotypes that result in the social, economic, and political marginalisation of people with disabilities.
An international affairs curriculum, small class size, and emphasis on student research led Maria to the GU-Q campus in Education City, where she majored in Culture and Politics, a degree which she says “gave me a critical lens to view disability policy creation and evaluation”.
“I began to recognise the inextricable link between the culture that shapes us, and the policies that we hope will shape our future,” she added.
Maria's advocacy work extends far beyond the classroom.
From TedxYouth talks to winning debate championships, founding the Hope for Tomorrow organisation and serving in Student Government and other leadership roles, she has been breaking down barriers, shedding light on disability issues, and fighting for inclusion and accessibility at every step of her journey.
Only one Rhodes Scholarship is awarded to a student from Pakistan each year, and Maria plans on making the most of her achievement.
After completing her studies, she plans on returning to Pakistan to continue her efforts towards ensuring equal educational opportunities and workforce legal protections for people with disabilities.
“I call myself a disability rights activist, but I know that this is not enough,” she said. “It takes all of us working together to make the changes that we want to see.”
“I hope this next step brings me closer to working towards making that change,” Maria added. “My Georgetown journey taught me that fighting for my rights and against internalised structural ableism never gets easier and yet it is up to us to fight against all odds.”