Living Spirit - Muslim Women's Project 2006: Report
A dialogue on human rights and responsibilities (2008)
Report on the Commission's Muslim Women's Project 2006
The Commission would like to thank the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria, our principal partner and collaborator in developing the forum.
The project was officially supported by the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia, the Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Islamic Girls’ and Women's Group, the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues, the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition and Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE. The support of all of these organisations was vital to the overall success of the forum.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
|Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (currently known as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIaC)|
Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria
Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia
Islamic Council of Victoria
Islamic Girls’ and Women’s Group
Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues
Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria
Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria
Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition
Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE
Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia
Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
Self-esteem, Identity, Leadership, and Community Participation Project
Victorian Co-operative on Children's Services for Ethnic Groups
Victorian Multicultural Commission
Ethnic Community Liaison Officer
Preston / Reservoir Adult Community Education
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) developed a Muslim Women’s Project 2006 to engage Australian Muslim women in a dialogue about human rights and responsibilities. The project culminated in a one day forum held on the 21st September 2006 in Preston, Victoria, called:
Living Spirit: Muslim women and human rights - participating in social change.
The Muslim Women’s Project was developed in response to the findings of the 2004 Ismaﻉ Report that found that the impact of racial and religious discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians was most acutely felt by women.
Funded by the (then) Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) — now the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIaC), HREOC embarked on a comprehensive consultation process with key stakeholders.
I am very pleased to present the project report setting out the aims, details of the forum, and issues and strategies identified during the project.
In addition, as part of the project, HREOC conducted a national audit of initiatives aimed at addressing discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women in Australia. A copy of the audit is now available alongside the electronic-version of the report on our website at www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/livingspirit/
I would like to invite you to send us information about any new initiatives or updates on ongoing projects. Please email a short paragraph, including your contact details, to firstname.lastname@example.org so that my staff can add this information to the audit. These updates will ensure that this resource is enhanced and developed into an even more comprehensive and current resource for all.
This project will feed into the future work that my team and the work I may undertake with Muslim women in the future.
National Race Discrimination Commissioner
In December 2005 the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) funded the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to conduct the Muslim Women’s Project: a dialogue on human rights and responsibilities (Muslim Women’s Project).
This report provides DIMA with information about the process HREOC engaged in for the Muslim Women’s Project including a summary of the issues identified throughout the process and the outcomes of the Living Spirit Forum in Preston, Victoria.
The Muslim Women’s Project 2006 was conducted by HREOC to engage Muslim Australian women in a dialogue about human rights and responsibilities. The project aimed to increase understanding among Muslim women about human rights principles and the laws for protecting people against racial, religious and gender discrimination in Australia. The project also aimed to identify further strategies to improve the capacity of individuals and communities to respond to discrimination and vilification, in particular racial and religious discrimination and vilification. See Appendix 1 for the project description.
In 2003, HREOC commenced a project called Ismaﻉ: National consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians. During this project the Commission consulted with over 1400 Arab and Muslim Australians around Australia. Participants described their experiences of racial and religious discrimination, vilification and abuse since the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the Bali bombings in 2002.
The Ismaﻉ Report, published in 2004, found that the impact of racial and religious discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians is most acutely felt by women, in particular Muslim women wearing the hijab or other forms of religious dress. The report also found that most incidents raised in the consultations were not reported to police or other government authorities due to fear of victimisation; lack of trust in authority; lack of knowledge about the law and complaints processes; the perceived difficulty in making a complaint; and the perception that outcomes were unsatisfactory.
The biggest impacts reported by consultation participants, particularly women and young people, were a substantial increase in fear, for example of being attacked or abused; a growing sense of alienation from the wider community; and an increase in distrust of authority such as government or police.
Consultation participants throughout the Ismaﻉ Project expressed strong views about the need for more effective community action as well as government action to tackle anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. Ismaﻉ identified several strategies for addressing these issues, including improved networking between diverse community groups, stronger community leadership, and better education within communities as well as the broader public about issues affecting Arab and Muslim Australians, as well as providing greater support for individuals who were seen to be particularly at risk of discrimination and vilification (such as women, young people and newly arrived migrants and refugees).
Since the Ismaﻉ Report was published other events, such as the London bombings in July 2005, have taken place that are likely to exacerbate the discrimination and vilification being experienced by Muslims as identified in Ismaﻉ. These events have only increased the need to address such problems and to seek ways of promoting the common goals of harmony and understanding. (For more information about the Ismaﻉ Project visit www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/isma)
The Muslim Women’s Project and Living Spirit Forum were developed in direct response to the findings of the Ismaﻉ Report and subsequent community consultations undertaken by HREOC and other government and non-government agencies including DIMA and the Engaging with Women Sub-Group that formed part of the Federal Government’s Muslim Community Reference Group.
The project’s primary aim was to conduct a forum which increases Muslim women’s understanding about human rights and their access to and use of legal avenues for addressing discrimination and vilification in Australia.
Specifically the Muslim Women’s Project aimed to:
- Increase understanding among Muslim Australian women about human rights principles focusing on but not restricted to racial and religious discrimination and vilification.
- Identify Muslim Australian women’s human rights issues and knowledge of human rights and responsibilities.
- Increase understanding among the non-Muslim community about Islam and what it is like to be a Muslim woman in Australia.
- Improve access to legal and community remedies for discrimination and vilification.
- Identify and develop further strategies to improve the capacity of individuals and communities to respond to discrimination and vilification.
As part of the project, HREOC consulted with key stakeholders, individual community members, government and non-government organisations in both Victoria and New South Wales from February to May 2006 to seek expert advice and feedback about the scope, objectives and implementation of the project. During this period 38 meetings were held in Victoria and 29 in NSW. Key stakeholders were consulted on the basis of their expertise on Muslim women’s issues and/or who have worked on particular issues around the promotion and education of human rights and anti-discrimination laws, particularly racial and religious discrimination and vilification. The meetings were a combination of both face to face and telephone meetings. See Appendix 2 for a complete list of the key stakeholders.
Participants in the consultations confirmed the need for a forum on Muslim women’s human rights issues. In addition, participants felt it would be useful to hold a series of workshops separate to a forum for Muslim women in Victoria to increase their understanding of existing legal protections against racial and religious discrimination and vilification. These workshops have not been funded as part of this project.
As part of the project, although not directly funded by DIMA, HREOC conducted an audit of recent and current initiatives aimed at addressing discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women in Australia including research projects, programs, procedures, resources, strategies, materials, initiatives and events at a local, state and federal level across Australia and some international projects.
This audit was used to help identify gaps in the projects undertaken in this area, generate ideas and materials for the project and help ensure that the Commission did not duplicate work already undertaken. The audit could be used to inform future projects. The audit is intended to be a working document where new initiatives and programs can be added over time and cross-checked to avoid duplication.
The audit has been confined to initiatives which are aimed at addressing prejudice against Muslim women specifically, rather than initiatives which target other sections of Muslim communities, or which provide best practice examples of projects involving ethnic communities. However, as these other initiatives may prove relevant and useful to future projects, it is envisaged that these initiatives will also be collated for use in the future. The audit can be found at www.humanrights.gov.au/race_discrimination/livingspirit/
On 21 September a one-day forum entitled ‘Living Spirit’: Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum – the right to participate in social change (Living Spirit Forum) was held in Preston, Victoria. The forum identified strategies to address racial and religious discrimination in particular, and promoted the common goals of harmony and understanding between Muslim and non-Muslims in Australia. See Section 4 for more details about the Living Spirit Forum, including a summary of the outcomes. The event was interactive and focused on Muslim women’s understanding of human rights and responsibilities. The content and format of the forum were guided by the consultations and audit and were decided in consultation with key stakeholders.
The forum was restricted to one state, Victoria, due to limits in resources. It was promoted in all states and open to any women interested in attending from all over Australia.
The forum, entitled ‘Living Spirit’: Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum – the right to participate in social change, was a one-day interactive event held at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre (DAEC) in Preston, Victoria on Thursday, 21 September 2006. It was developed and conducted by HREOC in partnership with the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria (IWWCV), thus enabling greater participation in the project from Victorian Muslim women.
The forum was officially supported by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council (FECCA), Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria (EOCV), Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV), Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), Islamic Girls’ and Women's Group (IGWG), Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMYI), Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) and the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE (GOIT). The support of all of these organisations was vital to the overall success of the forum.
The forum program was designed around the key issues which emerged from the key stakeholder meetings and consultations. Many of these issues were similar to the issues identified in earlier research, consultation findings and other initiatives including HREOC’s Ismaﻉ Project, DIMA’s national Muslim Women’s Forum 2004, Sawt: Voices of Women Conference – a two day conference organised by the Canberra Islamic Centre, consultations conducted through the Engaging Women Sub-Group of the Muslim Community Reference Group and other research conducted by academics, religious, community and non-government organisations. The list of the main issues identified through the Muslim Women’s Project, including the Living Spirit Forum, is outlined below in Section 5.
The forum was designed to address the identified issues through workshops, in
particular focusing on solutions and strategies. The forum was being planned and
developed at a time when many Muslim women, particularly Arabic-speaking Muslim
women, were coping with the realities of the war on Lebanon and its impact on
many families. The Commission was informed that the mood in the Arab and Muslim
Australian communities was one of tragic loss and despair. With this in mind, Living Spirit took a two-fold approach. It was firstly a celebration of
the human and living spirit of women, especially in difficult times. Secondly,
it addressed the importance of empowering women to actively participate in
positive social change to help overcome feelings of despair, disempowerment and
Many of the strategies are listed under their respective issues in the list outlined below in Section 5.
With active participation in social change as the main theme, the forum suggested pathways forward for service providers, anti-discrimination agencies, community organisations, individuals and the broader community in general. More specifically, the forum aimed to:
- promote harmony and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims
- develop strategies to combat religious and racial discrimination and
vilification against Muslim women (which could include the development of
- explore points in common between human rights principles and Islam, in order
to increase mutual respect, and
- increase understanding of legal protections against discrimination and
vilification in Australia.
The forum was open to all women, Muslim and non-Muslim. Formal letters of invitation were sent out to all local, state and federal Members of Parliament in Victoria, across all political parties. Invitation letters were also sent to the state and federal Attorney-General, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Minister for Women, all state and national multicultural and anti-discrimination agencies across Australia and major national, state and local key stakeholders. Flyers and other promotional materials were distributed widely by HREOC and other supporting organisations, including the IWWCV, through their existing networks and women’s groups and featured in many newsletters and websites. Information was also distributed to various mainstream, local and ethnic media.
The forum was attended by over 140 women from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, including Muslim and non-Muslim women and girls. Participants were diverse in age, culture, religion, experiences and attitudes. Most of the participants were Muslim women home makers, primary, secondary and tertiary students, service providers, community workers, religious and community leaders, and professionals including psychologists and lawyers. Non-Muslim women included church leaders, police, community workers, service providers, anti-discrimination agencies, media, government representatives and individual community members. Over 30 of the participants were between the ages of 8 and 18 years. In addition to the participants, over 20 children attended the childcare provided on-site.
Most participants were from metropolitan Victoria with a few women from regional and rural Victoria, including Shepparton and Geelong. Women from South Australia, Canberra and New South Wales also attended the forum.
During the consultations, key stakeholders felt strongly that the forum should not duplicate previous conferences and forums and suggested that in order for the Living Spirit Forum to be successful, it needed to include the following key elements:
- be an effective way of making Muslim women’s voices heard and be an
avenue for Muslim women to express their concerns, needs and aspirations
- provide bridge-building opportunities to dispel myths about Islam and Muslim
- provide a safe environment where women can speak out without fear and have
an open and honest dialogue
- focus on empowering and building the confidence of Muslim women with
information and opportunities
- engage Muslim women at grassroots level and not only target participants who
often attend such events
- document the forum (through video or audio) for use in future work
- identify sites of discrimination, and focus on the practical ways of dealing
and responding to such discrimination, vilification and abuse, and not just
through information and education
- provide interactive, fun, participatory and practical workshops and
- use familiar community members and experts as facilitators
- provide transport, childcare and interpreters to address barriers of access
and participation at such events.
Taking these suggestions into consideration, the forum was designed to be interactive and informative. See Appendix 3 for a copy of the program including details of the workshops. It includes the following features:
- an Indigenous Smoking Ceremony and traditional Welcome to Country by Joy Murphy, Senior Woman Elder of the Wurundjeri People
- a hypothetical plenary session called ‘Righting the Wrongs: How would you respond?’ addressing the sets of policy standards that decision makers use to respond to incidents of discrimination and abuse
- a morning tea with politicians, hosted by Maria Vanvakimou MP, the local Member for the area in which the forum was held
- 'Why Women Matter' Exhibition profiling achievements and contributions to Australia by ten Muslim women (see Appendix 4 for a copy of the ten profiles)
- the screening of 'Veiled Ambition' and other DVDs
- an interactive drumming workshop during lunch
- a Living Spirit Mural – an opportunity for participants (children and adults) to write down their thoughts and ideas about the day about human rights, Islam or any of the topics on a canvas mural which has been donated to IWWCV
- plenary sessions focusing on human rights, Islam and confronting negative stereotypes and misconceptions. DIMA presented a combined session about ‘What’s available and how to get involved in projects that affect you’ – on existing and future state and community projects – and a closing session about ‘Participating in change’ – capacity building and empowerment – focusing on strategies for the future
- ten concurrent workshops (five in the morning and five in the afternoon to
choose from). Workshops were facilitated using various styles including
scenario-based role plays, café-style discussion and question and answer
sessions. Two of the workshops were for young women only. The ten workshops
- ‘My rights are your rights’ – human rights and young women
- ‘Out of the shadows’ – human rights issues facing Muslim women
- ‘A new world’ – what the new anti-terrorism laws mean to you
- ‘How I can, NOT why I can’t’? – why should I make a complaint and how to cope with crisis
- ‘Lost in translation, found in respect’ – helping Muslim women cope with racial and religious discrimination and abuse
- ‘Critical connections’ – freedom of speech vs racial vilification
- ‘Image vs reality’ – how to answer the hard questions and our responsibility to combat negative stereotyping
- ‘Race is just lines drawn on a map’ – understanding stereotypes for young women
- ‘Educate a woman, educate a nation’ – the importance of combating negative stereotypes
- ‘Creating possibilities’ – a conversation
between generations about experiences of discrimination – how to make a
difference together in your family, community and life.
The Masters of Ceremonies for the forum were Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Conciliator of the Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria, and Ms Voula Messimeri, Chairperson of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia. Facilitators were mostly experts from Victoria and a few from New South Wales and South Australia. See Appendix 5 for a copy of the speakers’ and facilitators’ biographies. Childcare was available throughout the entire day with two qualified childcare workers who organised interactive and fun activities with the children.
The forum was followed by a closing dinner held at the local Café Umut to mark the end of the forum and celebrate the beginning of Ramadan. Over 70 participants and their families attended the dinner.
The Living Spirit Forum was documented on video, which will be used by HREOC for future reference as well as segments of it being used as part of a possible future resource. In addition photographs were taken on the day. See Appendix 6 for a copy of some of the photos.
During the Living Spirit Forum feedback forms were distributed among participants. The feedback form asked the participants to rate various aspects of the forum using numbers from 1 to 5, where 5 was extremely satisfied and 1 was extremely dissatisfied. Participants were asked to rate categories ranging from relevancy of topics to the quality of childcare facilities. Over a third of participants completed the feedback forms and from these the Commission signalled a few majority trends on the basis of the completed questionnaire.
An overwhelming majority of participants were extremely satisfied or satisfied with the speakers, the issues and relevancy of the topics addressed. A similar majority felt extremely satisfied or satisfied with the range of topics covered by the forum. A more mixed response was given to the hypothetical discussion which took place, although more than half of the respondents remained extremely satisfied with the hypothetical. The purpose of the hypothetical was for panellists, which included a newspaper reporter, a school principal, religious leader, a Muslim woman, a supermarket manager, police and a politician, to highlight best practice procedures, policies and other responses to incidents of racial and/or religious discrimination.
Most importantly the workshops were overwhelmingly rated as useful, with only 10% providing either no answer or rating the workshop as ok or not useful. Most participants were also very positive about the meeting of new people and networking opportunities during the forum. The ratings in relation to the provision of information about the forum indicated room for improvement in the marketing and distribution of information prior to the conference.
Comments arising from the workshops were predominantly positive: participants wrote that they had enjoyed the information provided, the discussions during the workshops and the meeting of new people through the workshops. Most respondents would have liked to have more time for the workshops. The allocated time for workshops and the advertising of the forum were the two main areas of improvement mentioned by respondents. Many respondents expressed an interest in contributing further to the development of strategies to deal with issues discussed during the forum and wanted follow up to the forum.
The feedback from the partners, key stakeholders and official supporters after the event was very positive. Most participants want further information about the outcomes of the Muslim Women’s Project and the Living Spirit Forum particularly. Emails after the forum came flooding through, with feedback such as ‘Thank you for organising a wonderful and informative event!’ and ‘It was one of the most innovative, interesting, creative and informative, not to mention interactive conferences we have been to in a long time!!’
Since the completion of the forum there has been interest from key stakeholders in other states such as South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia. The Women’s Law Centre of Western Australia has formally written expressing interest in organising a Living Spirit Forum in Perth. The Women’s Law Centre is seeking funding for a forum in Western Australia. It is intended that the forum take place some time within the next year.
5. What were the issues identified throughout the project that affect Muslim Australian women and what were some of the suggested strategies to address each issue?
The following issues and strategies were identified by participants in the Muslim Women’s Project both during the ongoing consultation process and at the Living Spirit Forum. Some of the issues identified are also being faced by Muslims generally and by Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. Where strategies have been suggested and developed to address an issue, these have been outlined in relation to their corresponding issue below.
The following list of issues and strategies is not comprehensive and includes only the main issues identified. Action Sheets were developed as an outcome from some of the workshops at the forum. These can be used as resources for particular areas of action, including for young people and women, employers and service providers. They are noted as Actions under their respective issues and the Action Sheets are attached to this report.
- Human rights tended to be discussed by the participants in the forum at a
practical level rather than a conceptual level. Generally, participants had a
good understanding of human rights issues, noting justice, equality, freedom of
speech, food, shelter, water, freedom to practice religion and respect for
others as being some of their human rights concerns. Many of the Muslim women
attending the forum and consultations had experienced or knew people who had
experienced some form of discrimination. Although participants knew this was a
violation of human rights, many were so used to experiencing such mistreatment
they felt resigned to the belief that very little could be done about it under
current human rights and anti-discrimination laws. Significantly, many believed
the law was not there to protect everyone.
- Generally, young women had a greater sense of injustice about the
discrimination they were experiencing than older women. However, they had less
knowledge about the laws.
- Some participants found it difficult to understand human rights concepts
such as rights and responsibilities.
- There is a particular lack of knowledge and understanding of the legal
framework around equal opportunity, anti-discrimination laws and complaints
mechanisms amongst newly arrived migrants and refugees.
- Participants felt that Islam and human rights principles were largely
compatible and played a major role in Muslim women’s lives. Many workshop
participants believed that Islam provided them with more human rights than the
international laws based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The application of human rights within Islamic practices and beliefs was more
practical. However, young women particularly noted that the correlation between
Islam and human rights was both positive and negative. For example, the
‘sad face’ of human rights in relation to Islam (as depicted in one
of the workshops) includes the lack of employment opportunities for women
wearing a hijab and a lack of friends. Such issues are not prominent in the
public debate. On the other hand, the ‘happy face’ of human rights
in relation to Islam included Muslims being proud of who they are, the practice
of religious festivals, mosque visits and tours.
- Use forums such as the Living Spirit Forum as a platform for future
discussion about anti-discrimination laws and human rights to ensure that these
remain in the public sphere, especially in consideration of the existing climate
of fear and ignorance which leads to discrimination.
- Lobby for an Australian Bill of Rights and for more plain language versions
(English and other languages) of domestic and human rights and
anti-discrimination laws so they are easily accessible, easy to understand and
apply to everyday life. These can be used as resources in future workshops and
should be developed in consultation with communities, including women and young
- Hold more events such as the Living Spirit Forum dedicated to issues
faced by young women. Such events should be local community-based events.
- Muslim women continue to experience racial and/or religious discrimination and abuse, mostly due to being readily identified as being Muslim or because of their name, colour or dress. Although these experiences varied greatly amongst the community, the ‘war on terror’ and local events such as the Cronulla riots in Sydney were seen by Muslim women as indicators of their increasing vulnerability to incidents of racial and religious discrimination and abuse. Many participating Muslim women had either experienced discrimination or knew of women who have had some negative experiences because of their religion or race.
- Experiences of discrimination, vilification and abuse occurred in the media,
on public housing estates, in public spaces, on public transport and by transit
officers, in shopping centres, retail shops and supermarkets (including by
security guards and the refusal of service), on the street or whilst travelling
in a car. Discrimination in employment and in the provision of medical,
government or rental services (particularly in regional areas) were also
identified as common experiences. Unprovoked incidences of violence and damage
of property were also noted.
- While some positive intervention was performed by bystanders, it was noted
that incidents where bystanders did not stand up against the behaviour was
particularly hurtful, although people who had witnessed incidents often did not
know how to respond, particularly when their safety also may have been at risk.
Young people noted experiences at school mostly in terms of favouritism. Concern
was therefore expressed over harassment and verbal and physical abuse that many
young people have endured as a result.
- Anti-terrorism laws made women particularly fearful and there was a general
lack of understanding of these laws and the rights of citizens protected under
- Awareness campaign to all Australians stating that the elimination of
discrimination and abuse is everyone’s responsibility. This could be done
by creating awareness of the impacts on the victims of discrimination.
- Empower Muslim women, young people and all Australians to safely confront
discrimination, vilification and abuse through knowledge, information, conflict
resolution and practical ways of dealing with such issues.
- Facilitate greater access to social support and other services.
- Conduct specific workshops about anti-terrorism laws and civil rights for
advocates as well community groups as part of other forums focusing on human
rights and not as stand alone workshops. This addresses the issue of fear
expressed by women who are afraid of attending workshops on anti-terrorism laws
specifically as they fear that, as a consequence, they will be targeted by those
laws and ASIO.
Note: Strategies outlined in relation to other issues may also address the issue of racial and religious discrimination and vilification.
- The most common feelings expressed as a result of experiencing
discrimination included: ‘alienated’, ‘isolated’,
‘humiliated’, ‘helpless’, ‘powerless’,
‘unsupported’, ‘violated’, ‘bullied’,
‘fearful’, ‘angry’, ‘not accepted as being
Australian’, ‘distrustful’, ‘insular’ and
‘feeling like they don’t belong and targeted’. Such impacts
were likened to feelings of trauma by participants. Many people believed they
were victims of circumstance and felt lost within the country, the community and
the system. Concern was expressed about anti-terrorism legislation, such as fear
of house being bugged or fire-bombed or fear of being deported.
- The social and personal impacts identified as being particularly important
- the rise in mental health issues including chronic depression, leading to suicidal behaviour
- limited mobility due to fear of being in public places such as shopping centres, relying on existing support networks to do daily tasks such as take children to school, shopping, etc. Some women have also been hesitant to go to the doctor or on family outings such as picnics and holidays. This can also impact on other family members’ mobility, including children
- limited access to economic and social development such as to education and to employment. Associated with this is a loss of social interaction and cohesion, limited participation and contribution in the broader community and with people of other cultures and backgrounds
- loss of confidence, motivation and opportunity to plan, develop and access career, ambition, residence, etc.
- loss of respect for and confidence in others and the system, leading to a distrust of service providers, friends, government, authority and self
- rejection of culture and religion leading to feelings of not belonging to either ‘Australia’ or to the ‘community’
- anger, defensiveness and aggression can result in some women behaving discriminatorily as a defence mechanism
- the creation of divisions and polarisation amongst the community instead of harmony
- fear of speaking out at the risk of being labelled as someone who holds the ‘victim mentality’ or not taking responsibility
- disintegration of social networks and support systems such as
community organisations. These networks are therefore less able to influence
policy, educate the community about human rights or to advocate for the
community as a whole.
- A generational divide is being created as young people and their parents are
experiencing similar feelings of alienation and isolation as a result of racial
and/or religious discrimination, vilification, abuse and stereotyping. Both
generations feel a loss of identity but rarely feel comfortable enough to talk
about it. The younger generation often internalise feelings of anger at the
treatment of their mothers, sisters, community, etc. and struggle to cope with
such issues. Consequently, they may also find it difficult to help their mothers
cope. Young people can become hateful of themselves and ‘the perceived
- Intergenerational tensions are created in response to fear and the need to
protect children from similar mistreatment and discrimination. This can result
in parents changing rules such as restricting their daughters’ movement,
demanding that their brothers be with them and choosing which friends they keep.
This over-protectiveness can lead to increasing passivity in women who appear
increasingly as victims. This then creates tensions between mothers and
- Other main issues faced by mothers and daughters include lack of
communication, language barriers, differences in knowledge of political and
social systems and a technology gap.
- Hold more events for parents and their children together. These events
should be social and informative and interactive and should include workshops
similar to that outlined in the Living Spirit Forum.
5.5 Responses to incidents of racial and religious discrimination, vilification and abuse including knowledge of and access to complaints mechanisms
- Lack of awareness and difficulty in accessing various avenues of complaints
and reporting mechanisms available to them, including police, HREOC, state
anti-discrimination agencies, community organisations, etc. This is particularly
felt by new arrivals, refugees and young people.
- Women would most likely inform family and friends if an incident of racial
and/or religious discrimination and abuse occurred, rather than seek redress
through legal avenues. Fear of victimisation, lack of trust in authority and
complaints processes, lack of adequate and consistent religious discrimination
and vilification laws, and fear of having citizenship revoked if they lodged a
formal complaint were also identified as reasons for not seeking legal redress.
- Other reasons why women did not lodge complaints or report incidents of
racial and/or religious discrimination, vilification or abuse to HREOC, EOCV,
police, ombudsman, managers, or to other formal complaints bodies included:
- lack of knowledge of where to go for assistance
- lack of English language skills and access to translation and interpretation services that were available free of cost
- feelings of suspicion and distrust of police, HREOC, etc. and a regard for them as being government. This made them reluctant to report incidents of abuse because of their experiences and background prior to coming to Australia
- fear of confronting the perpetrator for fear of retribution
- they did not think there would be a useful outcome
- feeling uncomfortable with the process of making a complaint due to
unfamiliarity with the process
- Educate women, young people and men in anti-discrimination laws, human
rights and complaints processes.
- Training for women should include examples of incidents of vilification and
discrimination and information about what constitutes a breach of
anti-discrimination laws under both state and federal legislation and what
constitutes a criminal offence. This information should also include a checklist
of how women should collect evidence and other information to support their
- Develop specific strategies for improving the process of complaints to HREOC
and state anti-discrimination agencies. Specific suggestions for doing this
- conducting workshops and train-the-trainer sessions with women and community workers about anti-discrimination laws and complaints processes so they can facilitate future workshops within communities
- provide information in a range of languages
- build trust between communities and complaints bodies
- educate youth through schools
- stress HREOC’s independence from government
- stress that human rights and complaints mechanisms are for ALL people in Australia, including non-citizens and regardless of visa status
- stress practical outcomes from complaints processes using
- Need to recognise the diversity of Muslim Australians. Policies and programs
which are targeted at Muslim communities should take account of this diversity
as well as individual needs. Recognising the diversity and contributions of
Muslim women was a particularly important step to building the self-esteem of
young Muslim women, providing good role models and opportunities for progress
and further contribution. Recognition of diversity on the basis of the
following was noted:
- ethnicity and culture
- religious sect and practice
- educational background
- socio-economic background
- area of residence
- method of arrival to Australia, e.g. migrant, refugee, family program etc.
- experiences and issues faced by Muslim women are also diverse and
- Focus on Muslim women’s positive contribution to Australian society.
This could include holding small exhibitions like the ‘Why Women
Matter’ exhibition featured in Living Spirit. Post these
profiles on websites. This helps address negative stereotypes perpetuated about
Muslim communities and Muslim women in particular.
- Muslim Australian women are not adequately represented on community and
religious organisations’ management boards. This limits their
participation in decision making related to broader Islamic and community
issues, limiting the role of women to advising on Muslim women’s issues
- Lack of representation by Muslim women in broader Australian mediums,
including in government and community advisory groups addressing broader
non-Muslim specific issues, in the media, in private, public and political
spheres, and in high profile professions and senior positions.
- Lack of representation and accurate reflection of the diversity of the
Australian community on mainstream television programs, news and radio.
- Provide leadership and mentoring opportunities for Muslim women of all ages,
especially women facing crises.
- Change policies in organisations to ensure that management boards, etc.
reflect the diversity of the Australian community.
- Use the arts and community cultural development opportunities to ensure
young people of diverse backgrounds are engaged in community arts projects.
5.8 Negative reporting, misinformation and stereotyping by media, community and political leadership
- Negative stereotypes of Muslim women are being perpetuated by some
politicians, community members and religious leaders as well as the media and by
some members of the Muslim community.
- Negative reporting and misinformation by the media are of particular concern
including lack of adequate vilification laws that combat cyber-racism. Women
feel powerless against media and politicians, thus creating further
- The repeated use of terms and labels such as ‘Middle Eastern
Appearance’, ‘Muslim Extremists’, ‘Muslim
Terrorists’ and ‘Australian Values’ in the public sphere by
media, police, politicians and other people of influence, including community
leaders, perpetuates negative stereotypes.
- There is an increasing gap between civil society and government, and Muslim communities need ways to participate in debates that affect them.
- Muslim and non-Muslim women recognise that they often stereotype each other,
reflecting representations in the media and by society as a whole. Rather than
question these stereotypes it is easy to fall into the pattern of also using
them. For example, the most common stereotypes of Muslims include that Muslim
women are oppressed, traditional and submissive and are the victims of violence.
Stereotypes of non-Muslim women include that they are outspoken, have too much
freedom, are sexually available and are feminists. There was a recognition that
negative stereotyping of Muslims had increased considerably since September 11.
Women felt that stereotypes directly affected their human rights, and young women particularly felt that such stereotypes often leave young people feeling ‘worthless’, ‘marginalised’, ‘depressed’, ‘discriminated against’, ‘not wanted’, ‘useless’, ‘feeling like losers’, ‘wanting to die’, ‘increasingly competitive’, ‘desperate to fit in’ and ‘wanting to change themselves and their religion’.
- Young women need to be engaged in workshops to learn ways of dealing with
- Young people need information on where to go for help if they are feeling
suicidal or depressed and other resources to help them combat stereotypes and
deal with the impacts of negative stereotypes – for example, using The
Body Shop workshop examples and the IWWCV’s SILC (Self-esteem, Identity,
Leadership, and Community Participation Project) workshops as good models of
- Provide opportunities for dialogue such as forums for Muslim women, young
people in particular and media in a safe and neutral environment. Use personal
stories to dispel myths about each other.
- Muslim women need fact-based information about their religious and cultural
background and that of the Australian population in order to adequately respond
to hard questions and misinformation.
5.9 Need for school, community and public education about the value of diversity and to improve dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians
- The need to bridge the gap and improve dialogue between different cultural
groups in the community and at schools. Education and dialogue are too focused
on religion and there is not enough focus on other aspects of diversity,
including cultural and ethnic diversity.
- The need for broad-based public education about religious and cultural
diversity within Australia to help dispel myths and negative stereotypes in
order to reduce prejudices. This could include the teaching of Islamic
principles and practices. Such broad-based education is important within the
context of multiculturalism and should avoid focusing only on Islam or singling
out Muslims as this may reinforce the otherness of Muslim Australians and
exacerbate prejudices. Similarly, while future projects may have a Muslim focus,
they should endeavour to be inclusive of the broader community.
- Young people to conduct workshops for young people.
- Role models and sports heroes should be used in public education
- Organise a project where Muslim and non-Muslim Australians swap lives for a
day and document this for future discussion and resourcing.
- Develop a web-based forum as a means of providing a space for dialogue.
- Ongoing and interactive cross-cultural training required for all service
providers including police and other law enforcement agencies, medical
personnel, teachers, employers, community workers, childcare workers,
interpreters, local, state and federal government service providers, and legal
- Service providers, employers, etc. have limited understanding and knowledge
of anti-discrimination laws. This is often reflected in their policies and
- Service providers and staff in private and public sectors, including health
professionals, may have knowledge of Islamic practices etc. but often do not
recognise these practices in the workplace. Staff often fail to recognise and
understand the impacts of discrimination and abuse. Whilst service providers and
others may understand the issues faced by Muslim women, they often lack
knowledge and skills in helping Muslim women and young people cope with negative
stereotyping, discrimination, vilification and abuse. The use of translated
material should not be the only tool to measure cultural competency in the
- There is an absence of appropriate and easily accessible social support
services for Muslim women.
- Provide adequate and ongoing training to all staff at senior and junior
levels in cultural competency using an interactive and participative method of
learning. This could include on-the-job learning at community or religious
organisations or migrant resource centres.
- Ensure that all policies and procedures in the workplace include a grievance
handling mechanism for racism and bullying, and that all staff are made aware of
their rights and responsibilities.
- Need to empower Muslim women through skills development and improved
knowledge. This includes access to plain language and multi-lingual education
and information on Australian human rights, political structures, media,
education and legal, government and departmental systems.
- Muslim women feel over-consulted and under-resourced, and expressed
frustration at the lack of genuine support and follow up after consultations and
forums are conducted. They wanted strategy-focused approaches and not
- More education, training and employment opportunities including a targeted leadership program and opportunities for Muslim women of all ages and backgrounds.
- Develop the skills of Muslim and non-Muslim Australian women to increase
their ability to respond to racial and religious discrimination and abuse, e.g.
developing an outreach program
- Ensure that women and young people of all socio-economic backgrounds are
given the opportunity to participate in events and capacity building
DIMA funded this project in conjunction with the Unlocking Doors
Project. The report for the Unlocking Doors Project was released in
What is the Muslim Women’s Project?
The Muslim Women’s Project 2006 is being conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to engage Muslim Australian women in a dialogue about human rights and responsibilities. The project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA).
The project aims to increase understanding among Muslim women about human rights principles and the laws for protecting people against racial, religious and gender discrimination in Australia. The project will also identify further strategies to improve the capacity of individuals and communities to respond to discrimination and vilification, in particular racial and religious discrimination and vilification.
In 2003, HREOC commenced a project called Ismaﻉ: National consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians. During this project the Commission consulted with over 1400 Arab and Muslim Australians around Australia. Participants described their experiences of race and religious vilification since the September 11 and Bali bombings.
The Ismaﻉ Report found that the impact of racial and religious discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians is most acutely felt by women, in particular Muslim women wearing the hijab or other forms of religious dress. The report also found that most incidents raised in the consultations were not reported to police or other government authorities due to fear of victimisation, lack of trust in authority, lack of knowledge about the law and complaints processes, the perceived difficulty in making a complaint and the perception that outcomes were unsatisfactory.
The biggest impacts reported by consultation participants were a substantial increase in fear, a growing sense of alienation from the wider community and an increase in distrust of authority.
Events since the Ismaﻉ Report, including the London bombings in July 2005, have only increased the need to address problems of discrimination and vilification against Muslim women and to seek ways of promoting the common goals of harmony and understanding.
In planning for the project, HREOC held meetings with over 30 key organisations and individuals in Victoria, and 29 in NSW, to determine how the project could best address the problems identified.
As a result of these consultations, two main activities were identified for HREOC action in the future. These were:
- A one-day forum in Victoria on Muslim women’s human rights issues (see
- A series of workshops for Muslim women in Victoria to increase their
understanding of existing legal protections against racial and religious
discrimination and vilification.
Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum – Living Spirit Forum
The Living Spirit Forum was a one-day interactive event in Preston, Victoria on 21 September 2006, focusing on Muslim women’s understanding of human rights and responsibilities.
Outcomes of the Living Spirit Forum
- promoted harmony and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims
- developed strategies to combat religious and racial discrimination and
vilification against Muslim women (which may include the development of targeted
- explored points in common between human rights principles and Islam, in
order to increase mutual respect
- increased understanding of legal protections against discrimination and
vilification in Australia.
Website for the project
For information on the project see the Commission’s website at: www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/livingspirit/
List of key stakeholders consulted regarding Muslim Women’s Project – February to May 2006
The following is a list of key stakeholders (Victoria and New South Wales respectively), individuals and organisations that were consulted on the basis of their expertise on Muslim women’s issues, and others who have worked on particular issues around the promotion and education of human rights and anti-discrimination laws, particularly racial and religious discrimination and vilification.
Staff from HREOC met and consulted key stakeholders either by face-to-face meetings or by telephone. Not including future and intended meetings, there have been a total of 67 key stakeholders consulted in both Victoria (38 in total) and NSW (29 in total) between February and May, with a further 3 key stakeholders yet to be consulted.
|Australian Arabic Council||Vice President||Taimor||Hazou|
|Australian Intercultural Society||Program Coordinator||Orhan||Cicek|
|Australian Intercultural Society||General Coordinator||Emre||Celik|
|Australian Multicultural Foundation||Executive Director||Hass||Dellal (OAM)|
|Australian Somali Council of Victoria||Women's Issues Worker||Khadija||Musse|
|Australian Somali Council of Victoria||Chairman||Abdalla||Ahmed|
|Australian Somali Council of Victoria||Fuad||Jama|
|Communities Together – Jesuit Social Services||Community Development Worker||Elias||Sabbagh|
|Cultural Perspectives and VICSEG||Arabic Cultural Consultant||Gabrielle||Fakhri|
|Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria||Community Consultant (CALD)||Kavitha||Chandra-Shekeran|
|Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria|| Chief Conciliator/Chief Executive
|Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria Inc.||Executive Officer||Prabir||Majumdar|
|Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils||Chairperson||Voula||Messimeri|
|Islamic Council of Victoria||President||Malcolm||Thomas|
|Islamic Council of Victoria||Executive Member||Sherene||Hassan|
|Islamic Council of Victoria||Executive Member||Waleed||Aly|
|Islamic Girls’ and Women's Group Inc.||Administration Officer||Amy||Chalcik|
|Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria||Manager||Joumanah||El-Matrah|
|Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria||Research and Education Worker||Nuzhat||Lotia|
|Moreland Turkish Association||President||Cemal||Akdeniz|
|Moreland Turkish Association||Secretary||Nurper||Goker|
|Northern Migrant Resource Centre||Chief Executive Officer||Stephanie||Lagos|
|Northern Migrant Resource Centre||Youth Settlement Worker||Abdinur||Weli|
|Northern Migrant Resource Centre, Whittlesea Office||Family and Community Settlement Worker||Khairy||Majeed|
|Victorian Multicultural Commission||Chairperson||George||Lekakis|
|Victorian Multicultural Commission||Commissioner||Yasser||Soliman|
|VITS Language Link||General Manager and President of Australian Council of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Organisations||Senada||Softic - Telalovic|
|Working Women's Health||Statewide FARREP Coordinator||Samia||Baho|
|Islamic Girls Women's Group Inc.||Treasurer||Maryum||Aziz|
|Commissioner for VMC and Goulburn Ovens TAFE Manager of Multicultural Unit||Vicki||Mitsos|
|Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC)||Community Resource and Training Officer||Nurcihan||Ozturk|
|Brimbank Community Legal Centre||Community Lawyer||Marika||Dias|
|Western Suburbs Community Legal Centre||Community Lawyer||Rebecca||Smith|
| Member of the Muslim Women's National Network of
Australia and Teacher at RMIT
New South Wales
|Muslim Women's National Network of Australia and Muslim Community Reference Group and Chair of Women's Sub-Group||President||Aziza||Abdel-Halim AM|
|UTS Shopfront||Research Manager||Tanja||Dreher|
|United Muslim Women's Association Inc||Manager||Maha||Krayem Abdo|
|Mission Australia and African Communities Council||Team Leader/Volunteer Coordinator||Hashim||Elhassan|
|Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations||Director||Kuranda||Seyfi Seyit|
|President of NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and Community Relations Commission Chairperson||Stepan||Kerkyasharian AM|
|Arab Council Australia||Executive Director||Randa||Kattan|
|Mission of Hope||Director, Psychologist||Hanan||Dover|
|Affinity Intercultural Foundation||President, Director||Mehmet||Ozalp|
|Affinity Intercultural Foundation||Vice President, Director||Zuleyha||Keskin|
|The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils||Chief Executive Officer||Amjad||Ali Mehboob|
|Al Zahra Islamic Council||Chairperson||Fatima||Hamdan|
|Al Zahra Islamic Council||Project Manager||Iptissam||Hammoud|
|United Muslim Women's Association Inc||Coordinator, Bankstown Women's Support Centre||Wafa||Zaim|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Executive Officer||Jane||Brock|
|Information and Cultural Exchange||Director||Lena||Nahlous|
|Information and Cultural Exchange||Switch Coordinator||Fadia||Abboud|
|Auburn Community Development Network||Auburn Arts Officer||Alissar||Chidiac|
|Auburn Community Development Network||Centre Manager||Mark||Lack|
|Community Arts Development Worker||Paula||Abboud|
|African Communities Council (also ECLO Auburn Police)||Rosemary||Kariuki|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Families First Worker||Rahile||Cakir|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Domestic Violence Worker||Mariam||James|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Domestic Violence Policy Officer||Kyungia||Jung|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Information Officer||Yani||Mariyani-Squire|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Family Support Worker||Amela||Polovina|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Domestic Violence Worker||Rukhshana||Sarwar|
|Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW||Domestic Violence Worker||Emina||Kovac|