Podcast: Storyology Panel

I had the honour of being on a panel with a couple of awesome women recently at the Walkley's Storyology conference. 

Check out a podcast about the panel below:

Kara in particular, just *says it like it is*. YAAAS! 

Speech on Gender @ the Inter-American Development Bank

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is holding its Transport Knowledge Week and I was extremely honoured to be asked to speak on the topic of gender and bias as it applies to such a technical field.  The program is a two day forum bringing together 50 transport specialists from the Latin America and the Caribbean region and this year they are discussing how to improve project´s impacts by including gender equality objectives. 

In this excerpt (filmed with the amazing Emma and Lucy from Broken Yellow!) it is explained why it is important to take gender into account when designing infrastructure and the value in creating an inclusive environment for colleagues of all genders. 

What do you think? Enjoy!

The research quoted is from:

Hatmaker, D. M. (2013). Engineering Identity: Gender and Professional Identity Negotiation among Women Engineers. Gender, Work & Organization, 20(4), 382-396.

More interesting research on this topic can be found in this report:

Powell, A., Bagilhole, B., & Dainty, A. (2009). How Women Engineers Do and Undo Gender: Consequences for Gender Equality. Gender, Work & Organization, 16(4), 411-428.

Get into it! Fascinating Stuff! 

Transport knowledge week @ the iadb

Transport knowledge week @ the iadb


Guest Blog: A Matter of Being Heard

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrar, the young Muslim lady who is the 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her poignant contribution to the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to be elected by the youth delegates as Youth Premier of Queensland in 2008 and it fantastic to see Iman in a similar position this year in NSW.  Chyeah! 

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

There comes a point in the hub-bub of everyday politics when the discussion on real issues which face our vast communities seems to give way to disjointed partisanship and strong-arm showmanship. Thus, this shows a neglect of the voices which often need to be heard most. Certainly, the lack of balanced and nuanced debate surrounding such issues by our nation’s leaders has heightened deep visions, sensationalized trivialities and disenfranchised many, particularly the young, from mechanisms of political institutions.

Now, it is with great humility and respect that I was provided with the opportunity to lead this year’s NSW YMCA Youth Parliament as the NSW Youth Premier for 2015. The Youth MPs I had the pleasure of working with are some of the most intelligent, outspoken, talented and politically active people I know; I could not be more honoured, and I thank them sincerely for entrusting me to lead them.

Throughout my life, I have lived across four continents and five different countries; I have traveled and I have been immersed in several different cultures, however, due to this, I was never able to fully settle and develop any deep attachment to call anywhere home. I will not deny that this gave me a realisation beyond what I was exposed to in my home and local area – it showed me the different governing systems, the different values and the inherently different lifestyles that came with that. It developed the value that I now have for the many cultures of the world, but I have never felt more at home then I do here in Sydney, Australia. I may have a British accent, I may not have been born here, but my Australian identity is as strong as anyone else’s. I am a migrant, in fact, besides the indigenous, we are all migrants to Australia, and we have all adopted this place as our home. When you see me, you wouldn’t guess that I am half English, and half Malaysian, that I speak 3 languages and can read and write in another two which I do not understand, and that I am a very, very passionate young woman who will not stand to be discriminated against, especially based on my identity as a Muslim or a woman. I may not look or fit any stereotype of anything that you may have in your mind – but against all the odds; of both a society often fearful of Islam and of a society that does not value the opinions of the youth nearly as much as they should, I am still proud to call Australia my home.

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

I preach for diversity. For it to be fully accepted in society, in managerial positions, in educational standards, and in State and Federal Parliament, and for it to not be a point of discrimination. I believe that it is about time that our Parliament reflects the diverse and multicultural nature of our population. I preach for diversity to be realised, for our true multicultural society to reflect on this notion of diversity, and for our youth and broader society to have their say on matters that affect them, on issues that they have the ability to put forward resolutions for.  As a woman, it fills me with great joy to see that 60% of the participants in this year’s NSW Youth Parliament are women. It is even more impressive that out of the Government Executive in the Legislative Assembly, 4 out of 5 of the executive positions are filled by some of the most inspirational young women I have met in my life who have such drive and passion for positive change in our society. Not only are we challenging the statusquo represented in current state and federal parliament through closing the gap of women in powerful positions, but we also encompass the multicultural nature of New South Wales that we have all come to embrace.

Through grassroots’ apolitical forums such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, the voices of this State’s young leaders are allowed to cut through much of the clutter and put into creating legislation and open debate regarding the issues facing their own communities as well as broader society. I believe that it is pivotal to acknowledge that this is not a matter of small significance. Rather, the Youth Parliament program kindles that political awareness and superb quality integral to the next generation of our states’ leaders – ensuring the future burns even brighter than the past.

And who said we, the youth, don’t have a voice?

It is simply a matter of being heard.

-- 

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrarthe young Muslim lady who is the current 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her contribution to the blog and stoked to see more and more young Muslim women doing awesome things and leading with compassion, integrity and vision.

Iman Salim Ali Farrar

Iman Salim Ali Farrar


On Sabrina & Blasts from the Past

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)

"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.  

Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.

In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.  

I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.

Easier said than done, of course.

Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges.  When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us.  Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.


After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic.  It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.  

The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules.  I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.

I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:

Salam alaikum dear Yassmin...welll I really don’t know where to start from coz I’m excited. I thought I should share my excitement with you coz you are someone I have always been convinced is of great intellect and life touching potentials, even though I only met you for a short time and we got to talk a few times.

Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. 

Yes! we’ve met before and that’s the more reason why I’m excited...sometimes in early to mid 2012 we were at the same institute of Arabic language (ma’ad lugha al arabiyyah) at International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.

We weren’t actually classmates but we’ve had the opportunity to study together at one of those instances where the teachers have to merge students together for some classes. It was on one of those occasions we met and we talked not so extensively, but heartily. You might not remember who I am, but I do vividly remember you, such that when I randomly watched your TED talk on YouTube while just surfing the internet, I knew it was you even without remembering your name, I just knew it was you...that’s how people with infectious personality, high intellect and extremely inspiring leave me feeling even if we’ve only known each other for a few seconds.

You might be wondering why I’m excited. I’m excited because since I stopped seeing you around at ma’ad lugha, it would cross my mind once in a while what you are up to where ever you are. Seeing you on TED and reading a few other things about you, and realizing that you’re doing great for yourself, and not just that, you’re also inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves is just amazing.

I’m really proud and greatly inspired by you. Keep up the good work and Allah is your strength.

We might not have so many things in common, but like you said in one of your talks, “you want to do so many things, that at the end of the day, you just want to be useful”.

I think we share that in common, and you are one of my inspirations to work even better at achieving that goal. I also have a few things going on in my life, if you do not mind, I could share them with you.

Take care.

That is what makes it all worth it. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.

We must never forget that.

I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.

Well, at my speech night someone - an important someone - asked me what I was planning to do with my life. I told him, and he said “No son, you’re going to study law and commerce and do this, this and this...” and that’s what I did!

Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.  


What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.  

The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.

How exciting is that?!

ICYMI: Guardian Article: "I work on a rig..."

In case you missed it, here is an article I wrote recently on the Guardian. Yeh, the title is a little click-baity, but have a read anyway...


I work on an oil rig with 150 men. You wouldn't believe the stories.

Being a female in a male-dominated workforce makes for being a subject of endless fascination.

The most common question immediately after the big reveal is an awed, “Oh, but what is it actually like working with all those blokes?”

Sometimes, it’s fun just sharing the war stories.

“Oh mate,” I’ll tell them.

“Working on the rig is like, another world. On land, I am usually the only chick out of 30 or so. Sometimes you would have one other girl on site, but almost never more than one. Offshore, it’s party time! You’re looking at maybe four women out of 150? It’s crazy. It’s awesome. You should hear some of the jokes.”

At this point, I might lean forward, and in whispered tones for effect, share what I call the “crazy rig conversations”.

“There was this one guy, right – he was just straight out about it,” I say. “He was like, ‘I’m a chauvinist, OK? I’m the last of a dying breed. Let me just say what I want to say!’

“I’ll tell ya, some of the rest is unrepeatable in good company! Get a bunch of blokes together and anything goes. I reckon I don’t even hear all the good stuff, although they do eventually get used to you.”

Truth be told, however, that is not the whole picture. In fact, like anything, working as a female in a male-dominated industry is all of the things – challenging, difficult, fun, rewarding, unexpected and above all, completely subjective.

What is fascinating is how the experience of women in industry reflects the broader expectations of and attitude towards women in our society. There is a general acceptance that gender diversity is a “good” thing, but some occasional reluctance about “forcing” a change, particularly when affirmative action is considered.

The broader questions around roles of men and women in society also linger. The traditional norm of men as the breadwinners and women as the homemakers in our society has definitely been challenged, but what does the alternative look like? Are women the homemakers and the breadwinners? Are men the homemakers? What does this say about our construction of masculinity and femininity? There are more questions than there are answers, and being in an industry with mostly men, it is fascinating to see the dynamics play out.

There are generational differences in the ideologies and this also varies based on industry, location (in the field or in the office) and education level (management versus engineers versus operators). Interestingly, it doesn’t play out like you would expect.

A recent conversation with a young engineer who started in the mining industry brought this to the fore.

“I’ve had a great time!” she said, almost in surprise. “I was expecting it to be rough and the men to be mean, but they’ve all taken care of me and shown me around.”

Indeed, quite often there can be advantages to being a woman in a male-dominated industry. People know who you are, you will always be remembered (which is a double edged sword) and the lads, particularly the operators, enjoy talking to a woman, particularly after being around only blokes for weeks on end. The older generations of men in the field (the baby boomers) are often happy to take on the role of “teacher” for a younger female, so a lot can be learnt. The younger men (gen Y) have grown up in a world where they have been told men and women are generally equal, and accept that as the status quo.

The lads on the land rig built a sleigh for Christmas... 

The lads on the land rig built a sleigh for Christmas... 

However, as we see in other industries, those benefits don’t necessarily trickle up, and there are still some structural and societal barriers that make it difficult for women. Scratching beneath the surface allows the unconscious bias to become evident. Taking the case of engineers, for example, it can be argued that female engineers are often highly visible as women, but invisible as engineers. There is an acceptance in equality but not always a true belief in it.

It may be the baby boomer is happy to teach but finds it difficult to accept direction from a younger female until she has proven her worth beyond all doubt. It may be the residual resentment in the young male engineers that a female engineer is more sought after by a company with a diversity policy. Those biases are more difficult to challenge and reflect the broader societal attitudes that are yet to change.

Some of the structural barriers are simply due to the nature of the industry which has been designed around men, due to its history. Whether that is because it’s seen as difficult to hold down a Fifo roster while pregnant or with young children, or that many time-consuming and demanding project management roles are given to engineers at a time when many women are having kids and may not necessarily have the support at home, some male-dominated workplaces are, unsurprisingly, still designed around men.

It is not all doom and gloom however. Times are changing, and are changing more rapidly than ever.

There are more and more examples of “non-traditional” families, where duties are shared and unusual support networks created. There are more women entering the science, technology, engineering and maths spaces, although there should be more. There are more companies with obvious diversity policies and that encourage women and cater to their needs. Things are looking up, it just takes time.

Overall, when it comes to women in male-dominated workplaces, the legislative change has been made. That battle has been won. The question is now about social change. We have to decide what we want our society to look like when we have true social acceptance of equality and access to opportunity, and then each and every one of us has to pitch in and create that reality.

In the meantime, I will continue to revel in sharing the war stories.

Call out for Muslim Ladies

Muslim ladies in the house!

I have received an interesting email from a lovely researcher by the name of Maria who would like you to be involved in a project to support (!) Muslim women. 

***

Invitation to participate in a project to support Muslim women

If you are a Muslim woman between the ages of 18 and 35, you are invited to participate in an exciting new research project, Beyond hostility and fear: listening to Muslim girls and women.

The research is being conducted by Maria Delaney and Amanda Keddie from the University of Queensland. 

We would like to share the stories of Muslim women and girls for an Anglo-Australian audience to dispel some of the ignorance in the Australian community about Islam.  

We are sure you would agree that this is important research - Muslim women often bear the brunt of Islamophobia, their voices often silenced and their stories crucial to generating more peaceful relations.  The research would involve an informal and friendly conversation about being a Muslim girl/woman in Australia. 

It would highlight difficulties and problems but also hopes and opportunities. The stories might be funny stories... exasperating stories... disturbing stories... (We will provide some questions that might be a useful guide here).  

We have had a lot of previous involvement with people from Muslim communities, so we believe that you would feel comfortable talking with us.

Also, your participation would be completely anonymous, so you can feel comfortable about sharing your stories.

If you would like to be involved, or if you have any questions, please contact Maria at delaneymt@gmail.com  or 0423193935
 
Best wishes, 
Maria 
 
P.S. You can find out about us on our websites:

Maria Delaney www.socialchangeagency.com.au 

Amanda Keddie  http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/1458 

***

I think it would be awesome if as many of us got involved as possible. If you are nervous or have questions, email me, otherwise email Maria directly!

Best of luck inshallah.

 

Don't DIS my Appearance: On Beauty

I've been fortunate to be able to support a powerful awareness campaign being run by the Butterfly Foundation.

"Don't DIS My Appearance"

It is a cheeky campaign for a serious cause.

Check some info about it here.

On the theme of appearance, I wrote this piece for Sunday Style.

***

No matter how high performing they are, so many single awesome, high achieving young women I know have insecurities about the way they look.

It’s almost something any two women can bond over, no matter where in the world they are from.

“Oh gosh, I ate SOO much today, and it’s all going to my thighs!”

You would be forgiven for thinking it was a line out of ‘Mean Girls’ and not a regular conversation between fabulously functioning females in 2015. It breaks my heart, and I would be lying if I said that I was always the exception. I also hate that it is true, because it wrongly reinforces a stereotype that says women are obsessed with and overly concerned with their bodies.

“I exercise so that I can eat chocolate,” is not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes it is said almost solely to fit into the expected discourse, because for some strange reason being concerned about weight is just so ‘normal’.

The ubiquitous and insidious nature of the media, and the advertising and image-saturated world we live in means there is no way to get away from a constant reinforcement of what is considered ‘beautiful’, what constitutes the ‘ideal’ and what a woman ‘should’ look like.

It takes constant reminding to disassociate from these cues and remind ourselves that there is no ‘ideal’. It is also worth remembering that these images are essentially produced art rather than a replication of a reality, but that is easier said than done. Ironically, as a covered Muslim woman, most of the time people can’t see my body to judge, but I know and that is enough to spur the internal conversation.

What is even more bizarre is Western standards of beauty being applied to people that are obviously structurally different. I’m an Arab African woman by blood so how on earth will I ever look like a J-Law or Emma Watson? I can’t, and yet somehow subconsciously I expect my body to be able to be moulded to a genetically different norm.

It is said that in Cuba, no matter what a woman looks like she has an inner sense of self confidence. How? Because apparently, growing up in a country without advertising from the nearby United States and the West, she isn’t constantly bombarded with capitalist-driven images of what ‘ideal beauty’ looks like. She grows up thinking the way she looks is beautiful, and just fine the way she is.

Isn’t that incredible?

Beauty and body image are peculiar concepts. What is considered beautiful is completely subjective, but in the world we live in there is absolutely no doubting that there is an ‘ideal’ standard of beauty and everything else is ‘exotic’.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents brought me up to have confidence in my abilities as an individual, and my self worth was tied more around how I could be of service to the community rather than how I appeared.  That being said, that wasn’t always the case, and it isn’t all black and white. I grew up wanting to slice my rear-end off. All the Caucasian girls at my high school had flat bottoms and mine was round and protruding.  Awkward, right? It always making my dress hitch up when I checked myself out in the windows. What I wouldn’t have given to be the same as everyone else, the same as the models in magazines and TVs all around me…

Now though, according to Vogue, the ‘booty is back’!

Wonderful, or perhaps not so much. Because the booty is only considered beautiful if it is a particular type of booty, and accompanied with a body that is just as thin (or fit, because that’s the new thing) as any other model.

Honestly though, this commentary is a little unfair. Although the internet can be a terrible place for women, particularly in relation to body image (Twitter can resemble the Amazon: Beautiful but also full of blood-thirsty piranhas), it has also spawned an incredibly supportive movement and brought like-minded, empowered women together.

Not only are these movements about highlighting alternative forms of beauty, but they are about encouraging acceptance and celebration of difference. It is also about finding female role models who are not celebrated because of their physical beauty but because of what they do.

If there is a way for us to tackle the scourge of low self-confidence related to body image, it will be through that – through empowering young girls to realise that their self-worth is not tied to what they look like but who they are: their intelligence, their humour, their wit, their opinions, their laughs, their tears and their actions.

I look forward to living in a world where women feel comfortable in their own skin and their self-worth is not defined by a constrained and unachievable standard of beauty. Perhaps there will be some of that Cuban spirit in us all!


Don’t DIS My Appearance is a national awareness and fundraising campaign for the Butterfly Foundation, calling on all Australians to take a stand against a culture of appearance based judgement and negative body image.

Funds raised go towards better prevention, education, treatment and support services to fight eating disorders and the devastating impact they have on sufferers, families and our community.

We are asking people to paint their middle finger for May. Check out other ways you can get involved here.

 

So get amongst it!

Awesome Women in Formula One

I wrote this piece for Richard's F1 in honour of International Women's Day... Enjoy!

Formula 1 is not a sport typically associated with women. The world of motorsport seems to be one that continues to be dominated by men, and women’s alleged inferiority on the road seems to be so universally accepted that it pervades popular culture and is the subject of countless YouTube compilations.

Rampant sexism aside, and despite what the Formula 1 greats (hello, Stirling Moss!) think, women have played significant and influential roles in the sport and continue to do so today.

As we approach the beginning of the season and celebrate International Women’s Day, we have taken the liberty to highlight a few of the most powerful women to grace the grids/pits/design labs over the years, shattering stereotypes and busting balls, all in a day’s work.

Spanish racer Carmen Jordá was just announced as Lotus F1’s new development driver; all eyes will be on this Spanish driver’s performance in 2015.

Born in Alcoy, Spain, the daughter of former driver Jose Miguel Jordá has been a professional driver for over a decade and her presence doubles the number of female drivers in the paddock in 2015.

On joining the team, she recognised the challenges: “I know this is just the beginning and the biggest challenge is yet to come but already being part of a team with such a history is a real honour. This is a great achievement, but an even greater opportunity which will lead to bigger and better things.

“I’ve been racing since I was 10 years old so it was my dream to drive a Formula 1 car since I was very young,” she said to the Daily Mail.

Having completed three GP3 seasons without taking home any points, it will be interesting to see how and if she progresses with Lotus. She took out 16th place in 2010 in the Firestone Indy Lights racing for Andersen Racing, and her highest ever final position was back in 2007 when she placed fourth in Spanish Formula 3. We wish her the best of luck with Lotus!

Click here to READ ON at RICHARD'S F1!

***

Sajjeling: #WISH: a step in the door

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.

Sassy Sudanese Sister: Holla!

Sometimes professional people in the community say some strange things.  One such Professor in Sudan said on the national channel (Blue Nile) that "all Sudanese women were short and ugly". How charming.

This was the fantastic response...

(Partly in English, partly in Arabic - but the passion needs no language to be understood!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT7KkcWp5Ro

Niqab wearing women and their professions

The niqab, burka and things women women use to cover their heads and faces due to faith are of great fascination for much of Western society. Much of the commentary precludes opinions from the ‘primary source’ (women who wear these items of clothing), and as such there are significant and often damaging assumptions made about the subjects.

‘Subjects’ is an uncomfortable but apt term, as many niqabed Muslim women are seen as foreign objects of curiosity and conjecture.   They are rarely ever perceived as human women who have hopes, dreams, kids, families, gardens, laundry and all the same dramas as every other human.

So given the fact that I don’t wear the niqab, what gives me the right to talk about this topic?

Nothing really, to be honest, and I do my best not to talk on behalf of, but to hopefully propose alternative narratives in an effort to change perceptions.  This post is one such example.

As you may or may not know, I spent the first half of 2012 in Sudan with my grandmother, learning how to cook, become a ‘good housewife’ and studying Arabic at the local university.  The university I went to, unbeknown to me at the time, turned out to be an Islamic based - and very traditional - institution for international students from all over Africa. This meant that the classes for men and women were separated and many of the women were from all over Africa, rather than just Sudan.

I was fortunate enough to befriend many of my fellow classmates, although it was an interesting experience as our life experiences were very different!  Funnily enough, because we were in an all-women class, all the ladies would remove any niqabs they wore and many would have their hair out (the 45 - 50 degree heat wasn’t conducive to many layers of clothing). As such, my ideas of them were not founded around what they wore but their varied personalities and stories.  I’d actually forgotten they all wore niqabs until I saw the following photographs on a former colleague’s Facebook page:

What are these photos, you may be asking? Are we seeing women being trained up for some crazy operation that we don’t understand?

No, what you see are African (Ugandan and Nigerian) women being trained as mechanical engineers and technicians.

Not only do these women have to brave the standard ‘women in engineering’ perception, they have to do so in an extremely hostile and patriarchal culture.  They learn how to take apart engines, weld and manufacture equipment, and do so with flair.

It is inspiring.

They’re smart and driven, but also feminine and devout. Sure, it isn’t easy. There is no denying the difficulties… but these are examples of women who do almost everything they want to, and what they wear in no way oppresses them.

Kinda cool huh? Glad you clicked? I am too :)

Links, Links, Links! 13th October 2014

There is a lot of interesting stuff on the internet.  Here are a few of the articles that caught my eye this week...

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1. A completely different perspective to one that is usually told: The niqab makes me feel liberated, and no law will stop me from wearing it

"I’ve always been the sort of person who loved to experiment, but I never expected that wearing the niqab would be something I’d try."

 

2. How ignorant commentary on Sharia law increases discrimination

 

3. Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East?

"In his book A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the emergence of Islamism, Dr S. Sayyid describes five arguments that explain the spread of what is commonly called Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism or militant Islamism."

4. The Myth of Religious Violence

 

5. An alternative perspective on the Emma - Wassim interview on #Lateline that even the PM lauded...

But Alberici’s own responses to Doureihi’s questions reinforced Doureihi’s claims that some kind of underlying narrative was at play. She was becoming flustered by a phenomenon — an interviewee answering her question in a manner he wished — that she should be well used to. Heck, politicians do this all the time. HT is a political party. Doureihi is a Muslim politician wannabe.

6. Is Islam a Violent Text?

This is SO good. Read it.

 

Channel Ten's new show. What do you think?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3U4f6lsp4E

 

Oh and in case you missed it, have a listen to Ian Hanke, Jane Gilmore and I on Outsiders for Radio National with Jonathan Green.  On the Sunday morning show we are talking the Lateline Interview (Emma-Wassim) and the current state of play in Australia...