i thought i'd share the words of azilawati banchit, a muslim woman from hamilton who won the "thesis in three" competition organised by the university of waikato. i share this because, well just because i'm proud of her! this is an excerpt from a piece published in a newsletter.
My initial purpose in entering the competition was to abide my Supervisor’s advice – as all Phd
students know it is crucial to never defy their supervisors. Called Thesis in Three, the competition is for higher degree candidates to explain their theses. They must do so in no more than three minutes using only one slide, to a non-academic but intelligent audience. Sounds simple but for most of the sixty-one participants who entered this year, it was not an easy task at all. This is especially true for us whose first language is not English and having only a single slide to camouflage our weaknesses is no help either.
Within six weeks to prepare before the first heat session, I had drafted tens of scripts and delivered countless practice sessions in front of the mirror, friends, my children and colleagues seeking constructive feedback.
Subdued, shy and quiet, would be the expected performance from a Muslim woman by some of
the non-Muslim audience (or maybe some Muslims themselves) when I stepped onto that grand final stage at Hamilton Clarence Street Theatre on the night of 27 October 2010.
That same audience changed their entire perceptions with regard to Muslim women after that day. All because a simple Malaysian, hijab-covered woman was the first winner of University of Waikato prestigious Thesis in Three competition, beating nine other finalists. I was “passionate, expressive and witty”, they claimed. Could these attributes be true? Are Muslim women allowed to be that way in public? Shouldn’t Muslim women be powerless, restricted to non-public roles, and oppressed as painted by the media?
Little did I know after that historic night, that I would be able to question people’s thinking about the demeanour of a Muslim woman. Here, I have to note special gratitude to all the judges in the heat and the finals who did not let any preconceived perceptions (if they had any) cloud their evaluation.
ETA: her thesis is on corporate bullying in east asia. i've added a link at the top to the official press release.