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28 Living Spirit

28 Living Spirit

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Published by thewomenofislam

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Published by: thewomenofislam on Jan 06, 2010
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Living Spirit: Muslim Women and Human RightsForum – the right to participate in social change
,was a one-day interactive forum held in Preston,Victoria, on 21 September 2006. The forumwas part of the
 Muslim Women’s Project: adialogue on human rights and responsibilities
runby the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission with funding from the AustralianGovernment Department of Immigration andCitizenship, under the National Action Plan toBuild on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security.The forum aimed to:promote harmony and understandingbetween Muslims and non-Muslimsdevelop strategies to combat religious andracial discrimination and vilification againstwomenexplore points in common between humanrights principles and Islam, in order toincrease mutual respectincrease understanding of legal protectionsagainst discrimination and vilification inAustralia.The Commission worked in partnership with the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoriaand was officially supported by the Federationof Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia, theEqual Opportunity Commission Victoria, theEthnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, theIslamic Council of Victoria, the Islamic Girls’ and Women’s Group, the Centre for MulticulturalYouth Issues, the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition and Goulburn OvensInstitute of TAFE.Over 140 women and girls attended, bothMuslim and non-Muslim, from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, includingwomen who had arrived in Australia as refugees.
Living Spirit: Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
This project also relates to: 
LawCommunity Harmony Education
Identifying a need through nationalconsultations
In 2003, the Commission began a project called
: National consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians
The Commission consulted over 1400 Araband Muslim Australians around Australia whodescribed their experiences of race and religiousvilification since the September 11 attacks andBali bombings in 2002. The biggest impactsreported by participants were a substantialincrease in fear, an increase in distrust of authority, and a growing sense of alienation from the wider community.The consultations revealed that the impact of racial and religious discrimination was mostacutely felt by women, especially those wearing the hijab or other forms of religious dress. Mostincidents raised in the consultations had not beenreported to police or other government agenciesfor one or more of the following reasons:fear of victimisationlack of trust in authority lack of knowledge about the law andcomplaints processesa perceived difficulty in making a complainta perception that outcomes would beunsatisfactory. Women, and young people in particular, reportedfeeling afraid of being attacked or abused aswell as a growing sense of alienation from thewider community and an increase in distrust of authority such as government or police.The social and personal impacts of these feelingswere profound. They included:a rise in mental health issues, including chronicdepression leading to suicidal behaviour limited mobility due to fear of being in placessuch as shopping centres, and relying onexisting social networks to perform daily taskssuch as taking children to and from schooland shopping
150Empowering Refugees
loss of respect for and confidence in othersand 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 andopportunity 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
Living Spirit 
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 withinformation and opportunitiesengage Muslim women at the grassroots leveland not merely target participants who oftenattend such eventsidentify sites of discrimination and vilificationand focus on practical ways of responding to it, and not just through information andeducationprovide interactive, fun, participatory andpractical workshops and activitiesuse familiar community members and expertsas 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 participants
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.
The Muslim women who attended werehomemakers, tertiary students, service providers,community workers, religious and community leaders and professionals including psychologistsand lawyers. Muslim girls were included with 30of the participants aged between 8 and 18 years.More than 20 children attended on-site childcare.Interpreters and transport were provided.The non-Muslim women who attended includedchurch leaders, police, community workers,service providers, anti-discrimination agency workers, government representatives andindividual community members.
The forum
The following sessions were included in theforum:an Indigenous Smoking Ceremony and traditional Welcome to Country by Senior  Women Elder of the Wurundjeri People, Joy Murphy a hypothetical plenary session called ‘Righting the Wrongs: How would you respond?’which explained policy standards applied toresponding to incidents of discrimination andabusea morning tea with politicians hosted by local Victorian Member of Parliament, MariaVamvakimou MP‘Why Women Matter’, an exhibition profilingachievements and contributions to Australiaby 10 Muslim women, including the profile onFaten below.a screening of ‘Veiled Ambition’ andother DVDsan interactive drumming session during luncha
Living Spirit 
mural provided an opportunity for all participants, including the children, towrite down their thoughts and ideas abouthuman rights, Islam or any other forum topicon canvas (the mural was donated to theIslamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria)a plenary session on human rights, Islamand confronting negative stereotypes andmisconceptions followed by:a session run by the Department of 
Immigration and Citizenship on existingand future government and community projects and how to get involved in thema closing session on participating in
change which focused on strategies for  the future and the empowerment of thewomen.Five concurrent workshops were held in themorning and another five in the afternoon.Various styles were used including scenario-basedrole-plays, café discussion style and question-and-answer sessions. Two of the workshops werefor young women only. The workshop themesincluded:‘My rights are your rights’: human rights andyoung women‘A new world’: what the new anti-terrorismlaws mean to you‘How I can,
why I can’t’: why should Imake a complaint and how to cope withcrisis‘Lost in translation, found in respect’: helpingMuslim women cope with racial and religiousdiscrimination and abuse‘Critical connections’: freedom of speechversus racial vilification‘Creating possibilities’: a conversationbetween generations about experiences of discrimination – how to make a difference together in your family, community and life.The forum successfully explored points incommon between human rights principles andIslam, in order to increase mutual respect. Youngwomen noted that the correlation betweenIslam and human rights was both positive andnegative. In one of the workshops the ‘sad face’of human rights in relation to Islam included lack of employment opportunities and lack of friendsfor women wearing a hijab. On the other hand, the ‘happy face’ of human rights in relation toIslam included Muslims being proud of who they are, the practice of religious festivals, mosquevisits and tours.A general belief was identified at the forum thatIslam and human rights principles were largely compatible and played a major role in Muslimwomen’s lives. Many of the women believed thatIslam provides them with more human rights than international laws based on the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights.A closing dinner was held to mark the end of  the forum and to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan. Over 70 participants and their familiesattended.

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