Developing a Supportive Ecosystem for Muslim Immigrant Women

A generational heightening of awareness and focus on addressing bias in the labor market can be identified through movements such as #MeToo or MIT’s Equal Pay Working Group. Yet for all the progress that has been made, significant support gaps exist. My Sister’s Keeper, a new incubator founded by DUSP’s Manal Zia and Khadija Ghanizada identifies the unique challenges limiting participation of Muslim immigrant women in the United States’ professional workforce. The incubator seeks to dismantle barriers to successful participation in the workforce, showcase the representation of Muslim women as professionals, and reframe narratives around immigration and diversity in America. The mission of My Sister's Keeper is centered on both challenging existing narratives and forging new ones. “Our idea grew from a desire to confront a landscape that often fails to recognize the rich tapestry of Muslim immigrant women's identities nor the breadth of their contributions and to provide not just skills, but also nurture the courage for Muslim immigrant women to occupy spaces they have been historically denied,” says Zia. 

“As a Muslim immigrant woman, I understand the complexities of integration with a population that could not always see my whole identity nor understand my context and experiences,” says Ghanizada in a video describing My Sister’s Keeper for SOLVE MIT. “But I am more than a refugee and a Muslim immigrant - I am a daughter, sister, a student, a fighter, a survivor. So many of these identities are lost in the narratives surrounding immigrants and so much of the work and leadership of this community is lost because we do not have the framework to discuss this plurality of identities.”

“The intersectionality of being Muslim, an immigrant, and a woman presents complex challenges, requiring us to tackle the deep-seated biases of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and systemic discrimination, along with patriarchal norms that pervade the workplace,” adds Zia. “Through our initiative, we aim to build a pathway for these women where their faith, heritage, and ambition are strengths, not barriers.We want this initiative to be a testament to the resilience and potential that thrives within our community, often unseen by the mainstream.”

My Sister’s Keeper, tapping into resources and expertise at MIT and Harvard, seeks to achieve its mission by utilizing personalized mentorship, providing legal support, valuing soft skills while building hard skills, and developing a strong peer network. The initial pilot, set for October to December 2025 in Boston, MA, will serve as a foundational step towards their goal of reaching 1,000 Muslim Immigrant women in five years. The pilot phase will target a cohort of 12 women for a hybrid, three-month-long program, aiming to test the effectiveness of the proposed curriculum and support services, with a keen focus on fostering a sense of community and belonging among participants.

My Sister’s Keeper was named the winner of the $15,000 Amazon Prize for Social Good at the 2024 MIT Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Ideas Social Innovation Challenge. The IDEAS Social Innovation Challenge is MIT’s 20+ year-old social entrepreneurship program housed in the PKG Public Service Center. Since its founding in 2001, IDEAS has enabled MIT student-led teams to apply their education and expertise in collaboration with community partners to address social and environmental challenges around the world. IDEAS teams benefit from a supportive body of reviewers, mentors, and funding.