loss of respect for and confidence in others•and the system, leading to a distrust of service providers, friends, government,authority and self limited access to economicand social development, such as to educationand employment, and associated loss of social cohesion and limited participationand contribution in the broader community and with people of other cultures andbackgroundsloss of confidence, motivation and•opportunity to plan, develop and accesscareer goals and other ambitions.There was a feeling of resignation among the women that little could be done aboutdiscrimination and mistreatment under currentlaws and a feeling by many that the law was not there to protect everyone.Although generally the women had a goodunderstanding of human rights issues, they didnot have a good understanding at a conceptuallevel. There was a lack of knowledge of the legalframework around equal opportunity, anti-discrimination laws and complaints mechanismsamongst newly arrived migrants and refugees.Participants observed that negative stereotypesof Muslim women were being perpetuatedby some politicians, religious leaders, somemembers of the community, and even somemembers of Muslim communities. Of mostconcern was the spread of negative stereotypesby the media. Women felt powerless againstmedia and politicians, and this created further marginalisation.The Commission identified many other issues, such as a lack of representation of Muslim women on community and religiousorganisations’ management boards, ingovernment and community advisory groupsaddressing broader non-Muslim issues, in themedia, in public and political spheres and in highprofile professions and senior positions.
Community consultations in Victoria andNew South Wales
The Commission held meetings either face-to-face or by telephone with 38 key organisationsand individuals in Victoria and 29 in New South Wales. The Commission sought advice from these organisations about how best to conduct the project. Participants confirmed the need tohold a forum on Muslim women’s human rightsissues.They also felt that it would be beneficial to holda series of workshops for Muslim women toincrease their understanding of legal protectionsagainst racial and religious discrimination andvilification.
Developing the forum
The key organisations and individuals that wereconsulted expressed the view that the
forum should not duplicate previousconferences and forums, and should provide asafe environment where Muslim women couldspeak out about their concerns, needs andaspirations. They believed the forum shouldbe an opportunity to build bridges betweencommunities and dispel myths about Islam andMuslim women, and should:focus on empowering the women with•information and opportunitiesengage Muslim women at the grassroots level•and not merely target participants who oftenattend such eventsidentify sites of discrimination and vilification•and focus on practical ways of responding to it, and not just through information andeducationprovide interactive, fun, participatory and•practical workshops and activitiesuse familiar community members and experts•as facilitators.
Promoting the forum
The Commission distributed flyers and other newsletter articles and website material, asdid supporting organisations, including theIslamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria, through existing networks and women’s groups.Information was distributed to mainstream, localand ethnic media.
The forum was open to all women, both Muslimand non-Muslim. The participants were diversein respect of age, culture, religion, experiencesand attitudes. Some had arrived as refugeesfrom countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, andSudan. Others were born in Australia or had arrived as migrants. Most were living inmetropolitan Victoria, with a few from ruralcentres such as Shepparton and Geelong. Somealso attended from other states.