this is a follow-up post to this one about the muslim women's conference last weekend, for those who are interested. as i mentioned, we've been having these conferences every year since 1990, with a 3 year gap around 2001 to 2004, when i think the whole community was feeling pretty disspirited. for each conference we have a theme, and in the past we've had themes such as education, the environment, and last year's was "raising children in western society". this year's theme was "muslim women leading active & fulfilling lives".
the speakers at our conferences are almost all women. we've only ever had three male speakers in all these years: in 2006 when the race relations commissioner and the FIANZ president were invited to speak at the public forum, and this year, when the current president was also invited to speak. other than that, this is a conference for women, run by women, on issues that are of importance to us.
the difference with this year's conference was the amount of physical activity. in previous years, we've always had an exercise component, usually fulfilled with an early morning walk. but this time, we had someone from sports waikato come in and run a session called "sit and be fit". this was more targeted to the senior women and those with less flexibility, although all the women took part. the teens were busy in a separate room, getting to know each other & doing a trash-to-fashion thing that was judged by the rest of us later in the evening.
the main physical activity was on saturday afternoon. it was pouring down with rain, and yet the women were still enthusiastic and excited. a group of them went on the horse riding/canoeing trip, another group did rock climbing/waka ama, and the third group (those who were less mobile) went out to visit the clydesdales and have a ride on the wagon. for many of the women around the country, this was a first. for us hamilton women, well some of us have already been doing this stuff over the last couple of years. we're lucky to have a wonderful woman in our community who organises this stuff for us.
you may wonder how the women manage to take part in these physical acitivities with their style of dressing. it was made easier for them by hiring female instructors, and many of them wore jeans or track pants with long tops. i'm not sure if there were any niqab-wearing women doing the rock-climbing thing, but we've certainly had a woman in niqab do horse-riding and waka ama in the past.
saturday morning was busy with a range of workshops. we had one on the media, targetted towards young women, and run by the lovely dr sapna samant from holy cow media. there was another one on how to set up a childcare centre by a muslim woman from christchurch who has done this and is now running her own successful centre. there was one on optimism and resiliency, and another on "active citizenship and supporting community" run by ann dysart from MSD. tariana turia was supposed to be running a workshop, but she kind of got caught up with other things.
there was another one on legal rights and responsibilities, run by women from the fatimah foundation. this one covered the immigration act, s59 of the crimes act, domestic violence legislation and a component on self-care. we've actually received funding from the american east asia pacific development programme, with support from the american embassy, to run this particular workshop & it will be taken around the country.
we had a public session at midday on saturday, which was really well attended. our overseas speaker, silma ihram, gave a great speech which i actually managed to get to. saturday night was the conference dinner, and sunday was our AGM.
at the AGM, when we were talking about plans for the coming year, one of the women ended up telling us her very moving story of having a son who was a drug addict at age 16. it came up because we want to run a series of workshops across the country on drug and alcohol education across the country. when we suggested it, we got the expected look on many women's faces: our community doesn't need this! we don't do alcohol or drugs. except the reality is that there are young people suffering from addiction, and there is now a small number of women in jail for these kinds of offences. prison visits have been started in auckland, but there is so much more need for awareness in our community, and the need to develop support systems for families who have to deal with these issues.
so i'm hoping that we get around to doing that, once the legal workshops have been delivered. it will be dependent on access to funding, and of course social services are the most poorly funded area of endeavour in this country.
one of the difficult issues we faced in hamilton was getting a venue. many of the camp grounds are owned by christian groups who weren't prepared to hire them to us. we had that trouble with a boarding school as well. other venues had catering contracts in place, and those contracts come at a pretty high price - certainly more than we could afford to spend on food. it's really frustrating when community groups are kept out of publicly owned venues because of such contracts.
still, it all got done and the feedback from the conference has been really positive. it was a lot of hard work for a dedicated group of women, but because the conference rotates around the country, it won't be our turn again for another 5 years. so we can put our feet up and enjoy the conferences run by women in other cities for the next few years.