For many in Sudan, its current situation is virtually unliveable, with cash and fuel shortages galore, astronomical and unpredictable inflation, and basic services that sometimes do more harm than good
This piece was originally posted for the fantastic blog Sajjeling. Check it out!
This was a hard piece to write, mostly because critiquing movements that are helping the community can be construed as unconstructive and vindictive. However, I repost it in order to hopefully air alternative perspectives. I do not want any critique to de-legitimise what women have felt the campaign has done, but use it as an opportunity to reflect and then ask ourselves: what is next?
Perhaps not surprisingly, a campaign that calls for women of all stripes to don the hijab, take a photo and post it online has garnered mixed reviews over the past few weeks.
#WISH, or Women in Solidarity with Hijabis, came about with the idea of show support and solidarity for Muslims, and, particularly, Muslim women, around the country.
With hundreds and thousands of views, digital interactions and imprints, and almost 30,000 likes on Facebook, it is certainly making an impression in the wider Australian community. Women have used it as an entry point for discussion, posting their photo in a hijab and usually accompanying it with a message of hope or solidarity. On the surface, it all seems very positive and very encouraging, as it provides a space for those who support Muslim women and sisters to very visually ,and publicly, make a stand.
However, responses from other parts of the Muslim community have rejected the premise of the campaign entirely as belittling and disrespectful of the religious nature of the hijab. Not only does the campaign minimise the religious nature of the hijab, but it can allow people to engage without the difficulty of taking on the identity per se; the privilege to be able to remove the hijab and rejoin society as an accepted member of the mass group is one that doesn’t exist for many Muslim women as an option at all. Therefore, women who feel like they have ‘joined’ the group or, after wearing it for a week, realised how ‘difficult’ it may be or how ‘perceptions change’ when you are wearing a hijab are simply Orientalising the garment rather than engaging with its true meaning.
Nevertheless, in spite of commentary about the effectiveness and impact of the campaign, it is worth noting at the outset that it was begun by a Muslim woman in Australia. Therefore, it should be treated as reflective of the wishes of some members in the community. Some may argue that the campaign is a reactionary way of dealing with the superficial manner in which the public engages with religious belief, however that argument, again, becomes an assumption around a Muslim woman’s capacity for autonomy and choice. Rather than re-emphasise the perception that Muslim women are oppressed and helpless, especially in the face of adversity, this prime example shows that those very women are capable of taking matters into their own hands and finding new ways to change the narrative.
Another campaign in Australia, “Racism, Hatred, Bigotry – #NotInMyName”, is also pushed by a Muslim Australian woman, further defying stereotypes of men being the only leaders in the community.Objectively, there is no denying that the campaign is not the answer to all the Australian Muslim community’s problem, nor does it engage in critical policy creation or find solutions to the increasing incidences of racial and bigoted acts.However, perhaps this is a case of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
What the campaign has been successful at doing is allowing many women to engage with the Muslim community in a way they may not have done previously, perhaps because they are drawn to the superficial beauty of the hijab, however ironic that may be.
Most of the women who do engage are doing so in an effort to learn and to demonstrate their solidarity. Although some may fall under the ‘well intentioned but possibly misguided’ banner that volunteer activists sometimes do, there is still a positive intention that is worth recognising and working with.
Who are we to decide or determine how people learn about Islam? The Muslim communities expend immense amounts of carbon dioxide talking about how there is little knowledge or information about Islam in the wider community. Should we shoot down one of the most successful campaigns that has allowed positive information to be shared with thousands?
#WISH is not the whole answer, but it is not none of the answer either. What it does is open the doors to a conversation about what the religion means, what the reasoning behind its wearing is based on, and ultimately, what Islam is all about. It is a non threatening, low-barrier-to-entry way of engaging, and although it may make us as Muslim women feel insecure, frustrated, culturally appropriated and exploited even, no change is made without sacrifice and change is certainly not made if we continuously refuse to engage with the initiatives that have been positive and ultimately, successful. Right?
Honestly and personally speaking, the campaign can be uncomfortable for some Muslim women, although I speak for myself here. It takes a religious act that for some means daily struggle and constant judgment, and allows it to be worn by many others as a simple ornament, like any other item of jewellery. The significance of the hijab can be lost in that transaction, and not only is that sad, but it is a misrepresentation of its meaning. It should be noted that the concept of ‘hijab’ itself isn’t even only just about the headscarf, it includes modestly dressing across the board, and modesty in our actions as well. #WISH does not communicate that larger message.
But it doesn’t pretend to, either.
Yes, it may be uncomfortable; but is rejecting it the only answer?
Perhaps it should be thought of in this way: #WISH can be the foot in the door. It may only be a little bit of foot in the door, and perhaps it’s only in the door frame to test the waters. Nonetheless, if we are serious about changing the narrative and engaging and educating the wider public, the door at least has to be a little bit open. Will we continue to squabble about how the foot got there, holding our post-colonial grudges in our hearts, or will we try to forgive the lack of knowledge and work to ensure that the vacuum is filled?
The choice is ours. Next move, hijabis.
Check out this piece that I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald! (Click for original piece)
The writing has been on the wall for some time for young people in Australia who want to manufacture cars.
"The automotive industry is dead in Australia. Go overseas if you want to get anywhere in this field, or try another sector," automotive veterans and mentors have told me in the past few years.
As a young mechanical engineer who is passionate about motor sport and the automotive industry, I always found this advice disheartening. Given recent events at Toyota, Holden and Ford in Australia, their words are prophetic.
Considering Ford Australia reports that the unit cost of production for Australian-made car models is four times that of Asia and double that of Europe, these closures were inevitable. The mass production system is not viable in today's economic climate and in the face of our competitors.
The question now is not whether or not the government did the right thing by allowing Ford, Holden and Toyota to shut their factory doors and seal the fate of an industry; that point is now moot.
Putting aside ideology, the thinking must now shift towards what manufacturing jobs will look like in future; what frameworks and mechanisms are required to ensure job creation, and if we value manufacturing sufficiently to keep investing in a way that emphasises Australia's natural strengths.
Our primary industries are economic powerhouses that have served us well. Yes, they are strong and dependable but recent trends have shown they are not infallible.
As the resources industry moves from the labour-intensive construction phase to the production phase, which requires fewer employees, it may not be able to meet the demand for jobs, which will be exacerbated by job losses in automotive manufacturing.
Casting our eyes further down the road, as the population ages there will be fewer workers to support a rising number of retirees. The government's 2010 intergenerational report indicates that, by 2050, 23 per cent of the population will be 65 or older.
With an increasing number of older Australians depending on a shrinking population of working-age employees, it is important the economy is diversified to ensure it remains robust in the long term.
We need a clear vision for what the nation will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years time, and what industries we will rely on.
Rather than focusing on the short term, investment should be made in developing the skills, expertise and knowledge base of workers to ensure Australia can compete in global markets.
This includes investment by government, plus developing a culture of private investment and venture capitalism.
If we are to stimulate production of innovative, high-tech and niche products that are within our capacity to create, our appetite for risk and failure will have to be re-examined.
Australia has the potential to be a nation of manufacturing and engineering excellence.
From medical innovations such as the cervical cancer vaccine, to the research and development powerhouse that is the CSIRO, we excel in high-quality technology and manufacturing - but this growth and development does not happen on its own.
Expecting the automotive manufacturing industry to make a painless transition may be unrealistic but if we approach the situation as an opportunity to develop a narrative about what new jobs should look like, and begin to take concrete steps in that direction, the future looks more exciting and optimistic.
More investment in innovative research, more risk-taking, and a focus on high-quality niche products and services - these are the things that will allow us to build a future for the nation.
What do you think?
When I'm at work on the rigs, it turns out I'm an undercover hijabi.
The experience I have reflects what blogger Leena talks about in her piece 'I took my hijab off for a day'. She describes a complete shift in the way she was perceived by society after she accidentally covered her hijab up with a knit hat and scarf.
There is little chance women will ever make up half of senior executives in engineering intensive industries, let alone in 10 years time, unless there is a real push for more women in these sectors in the first place.
Companies have to look beyond rapid promotion and mentoring plans to the impediments that exist for women at the beginning of the executive pipeline if any change is to occur. s (BCA) bold target of increasing the number of women in senior roles is a promising development. However, the lack of diversity at the upper levels of management in companies is a symptom of a problem that begins much earlier. It is the product of a range of obstacles that prevent women from reaching positions in which they are visible options, and, taking a further step back, from even considering these industries at all.
When I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering I was one of seven females in a class of a few hundred. This ratio highlights a flaw in the way woman approach science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) based disciplines.
Part of the problem is how STEM subjects are marketed to young women, or not marketed at all, from a young age. Far too many girls are studying maths in their final years of high school, effectively shutting down a whole lot of career options. This is reflected in university enrolments, graduations and industry employment patterns.
In oil and gas extraction in Australia, the percentage of females working in the industry is less than 12 per cent. As a fly-in, fly-out, high-visibility gear wearing field specialist, it is extremely rare to meet another female on any land rigs. Granted, the work is not glamorous and the environment is not suitable for everyone (male or female) but if, at the grassroots level in the field, there are very few females working, what is the chance of female talent making it to the top?
Field experience in engineering provides a level of depth and understanding of the industry that is critical to higher management roles. Recent counsel by a senior engineer at an oil and gas conference indicated that part of the reason females were not reaching upper management positions was due to the lack of field knowledge (and the networks and understanding of the culture that comes along with field experience) compared to their male counterparts.
The field environment is not nearly as hostile as people expect. With more women visibly taking on these roles, hopefully more will be encouraged; enough to achieve the critical mass required for real culture change. However, lack of field experience is not the only barrier.
Due to the low numbers of women in engineering, there is an extra layer of difficulty for women returning to the workforce after maternity leave. In a field where experience on different projects is paramount and the work is extremely resource and time intensive, missing the months or years is more than just disadvantageous, it means that real opportunities for growth are missed. As a female just starting out in the industry, this is something that is always at the back of my mind. There is an opportunity for companies to play a much more significant role in this space, although ironically the understanding of the needs of female employees will be best addressed by female directors.
Women who study and work in engineering-based fields are not always comfortable discussing gender in the workplace either, due in part to the stigma associated with the discussion in such a blokey environment. In a world where women are outnumbered more than five to one, it is important that men are involved in this conversation. The report released by the Male Champions of Change is a symbolic move that should not be understated, as it signals that gender diversity is not simply a ploy by women to ‘move up the ranks faster’ and ‘be rewarded for gender not talent’, as some critics may choose to believe. It highlights the value of gender diversity to the business.
Cultural change is never an easy endeavour but it is worthwhile. The BCA’s move is timely and important. Working with industry to develop solutions that focus on the root of the problem can make audacious targets a reality.
So what do you think? Is the target a reality? Would love to hear your thoughts!
Just after the Australian election, my first 'real-life' paper opinion piece appeared in the Sun-Herald paper, the Sunday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Icing on the cake? Malcolm Fraser himself retweeted it!
In case you missed it, check it out below...
It has been a long five weeks. It would be fair to say it has been a long seven months; since the first election announcement on January 30, the political onslaught has been relentless.
The cycle of topical and divisive issues such as asylum seekers, the economy, the national broadband network and the paid parental leave scheme have dominated. Tiringly, these issues are only ever discussed in sound bites.
The debates made conspicuous by their absence however, were those about the policies that directly address issues of importance to young people and the longer-term future of our nation.
Climate change has been spoken about only in so far as to scrap the carbon tax. It would seem Maslow's hierarchy of needs is at work, with parties playing on voters' survival instinct rather than longer-term attitudes towards morality. In an environment where the fear of the "budget emergency" and the "rise in the cost of living" are touted as immediate crises, the apparent "ethical luxury" of a shift to sustainable development is no longer part of the debate.
The fear-mongering flies in the face of data from the National Electricity Market, which indicates a 7 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2011-12 to 2012-13. Naturally, the entire reduction cannot be attributed simply to the tax and it alone is not the whole answer. Nonetheless, the objective remains: to reduce our society's impact on the environment by whichever means are most effective.
Young people have been left behind at both ends of Maslow's hierarchy. Not only has the issue of climate change been removed from consideration, but the physiological and safety needs in employment and housing have been underplayed.
The unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 is 11.5 per cent, double the general number and up from 8.8 per cent in 2008. For those between 15 and 19, it is 27.3 per cent, up from 15.5 per cent in 2008. The Foundation for Young Australians' How Young People Are Faring 2012 report shows opportunities for them to take up full-time work have declined over the past 25 years.
Furthermore, the demographics of our workforce are changing. Job vacancies are low, with one in five unemployed for every vacancy in some states. Even for the 73.4 per cent of young people engaged in full-time education or training, their prospects once their training is over have been diminished.
The difficulties are further compounded for the vulnerable. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds (13.8 per cent) are twice as likely as their wealthier counterparts (5.2 per cent) to be out of employment, education or training. For indigenous youth and those with a disability, the rate is three times as high.
Housing is another sleeper issue largely ignored by public debate, with numbers showing a continuing decline in the value of loans taken out by first home buyers. Young people are also over-represented among the homeless.
The solutions provided by each side of the house are insufficient. The structures within the labour force, entry to employment and the effectiveness of traditional pathways need to be reassessed. To do that, however, these issues need to be on the table.
Perhaps the voting power of young people is not enough to set the agenda yet, but climate change during the 2010 election implied the opposite. The short-sightedness of our leading parties, however, means the burgeoning issues of our time are left aside for emotive discussions that play on voters' fears.
We can only hope that now that the decision has been settled, we will see some long-term visionary thinking. Optimistic perhaps, but isn't that the blessing of youth.
So what do you think? What issues are now missing from the agenda?