Wednesday, 26 January 2011

leading active & fulfilling lives

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.


Deborah said...

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.

Good grief! I wonder that these people dare to call themselves christian. I'm so sorry that you had to experience and work around this kind of hatred.

Peer Review said...

You are speculating aren't you regarding the reason for being declined and then using an inflammatory term to support your speculation.
Couldn't resist a little dig at the Christian owners, both of you are putting 2 and 2 together and assuming 5.
I await your report on the upcoming gathering of 200 Christian feminist women in Saudi Arabia.
This won't happen of course, that's where you will see real hatred and intolerance!

Hugh said...

Peer Review, while I don't want to minimise the problems of non-Wahabbi Muslims in Saudi Arabia I think it's unfair to expect Muslims all around the world to accept discrimination until no Muslim government discriminates against non-Muslims. And I'll note that the only person trying to draw an equivalence between the problems of Muslims in New Zealand and Christians in Saudi Arabia is you.

Stargazer I know you don't like questions, but has your organisation considered legal action? I'm not sure on the exact law regarding this kind of thing but it strikes me as possible that rejecting your group on the basis of it being Muslim might be illegal. (If you have explored it and feel it's not illegal, that would be revealing)

Even if it is legal it might still be worth going to the media about it. This kind of story might be quite embarassing to the groups involved. Of course it might also lead to negative commentary, so... double-edged sword, I guess.

stargazer said...

i'm not speculating, peer review. i had an email from one of the camps that they only allowed christian teaching on their grounds & that we could have the place only if we promised not to have teachings of any other faith there. we weren't prepared to give that promise, so didn't bother taking it further. a couple of others told us by phone. the school, a private one, initially were keen & had checked their schedule to say it was free. a few days later, they told us that there might be a wedding that weekend so was unavailable. the way it was handled was a little suspicious. that school allows the bahai community to use their premises every year for religious teaching, so not sure what the story was with them.

as hugh says, i'm not responsible for what happens in saudi or any other country. and i didn't take any digs whatsoever, i simply stated the facts of what had happened. my main point in raising the problems we had with venues was that i believe there should be public venues for hire which aren't subject to catering contracts, so that community groups like ours can have access to them. i really have nothing to gain by taking digs at other faith communities and avoid doing so to the best of my abilities.

hugh, we haven't considered taking further action - i don't think it would be productive. i'd much rather put my energies towards lobbying for public spaces, and had a chat with the deputy mayor and the mayor about that (both of them attended the public forum).

Peer Review said...

Hugh, perhaps the Christians consider their camps consecrated ground?, I am sure they will have been blessed as any Christian gathering place would have been.

The whole point of religion is not inclusiveness, otherwise why do we have so many? I for one am happy for each religion to co-exist without trying on the victim schtick.

Until we know if the Muslim women approached other creeds to use their facilities, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Bahai', all of whom have facilities in the Waikato,
then it is just another case of the west and its symbols being held to a higher standard than anyone else.
Why? Because they can.

If you like I will make enquiries whether a Christian group is able to use Islamic facilities here in Sth Auckland.
Another question for you, would you be so keen to get lawyers involved if the Hindus or Sikhs had turned down their request?

stargazer said...

peer review, i'm going to be charitable and assume you haven't read my response to you. you seem to have some kind of persecution complex happening here. for your information, none of the faith groups you mentioned have camp grounds or other similar accommodation for 80 - 100 people here in the waikato. tainui were keen to host us at one of their venues, but the catering contract put it out of our reach. same was the case for wintec & a couple of others.

you go ahead and make all the queries you want, if it makes you happy. i think you're right, many faith groups would have responded in the same way but there weren't any others here to ask.

and hugh, you can see why i said any action would be counter-productive. just imagine this, multiplied by 100,000 (at least). i really can't be bothered with it.

Hugh said...

This is the problem with using the legal system as a recourse for discrimination, the costs for access are very high, even when the case is open-and-shut. It might be worth looking into some sort of joint action by other non-christian groups who have been denied access. But I realise this is a long way from the primary purpose of your organisation, so yea, maybe not.

Peer Review, I'm just going to say the odds of a training camp being consecrated ground are extraordinarily low, and your stating that they might be actually suggests to me you don't actually know much about christianity. Which is pretty funny.