She spent two years managing the Interfaith Portfolio of the Islamic Council of Victoria and has recently organised the Women Acknowledging Women Awards which aims to acknowledge the quiet achievers, through nominations of Muslim women who have made a difference to the world.
She shared with us a bit about her start in grassroots community change, how she prevents burnout, and how Islamaphobia often impacts women in more ways than it does men.
“What exacerbates this issue in the consistently negative portrayal of Muslims by major Australian news agencies, and the vilification of Muslims by key political leaders. All of these messages contribute to Muslim women, who are visibly religious, becoming the targets of discrimination, whether in public or in the workplace.”
Our finalists are sharing some awesome career wisdom in these Q&As, as well as more on their back story and how they have emerged as a leader. See our growing hub for these Q&As here.
Has your career in this field been planned or has it happened by chance? What put you on this path today?
My foray into community service was a few years in the making. I moved to Australia as an international student in 2007, and hence went through an intensive immigration ordeal to earn the right to live and work here. Through my own lived experiences and those of my peers in similar situations, I learnt that every hurdle is magnified when one hails from an ethnic and religious minority. This created in me the desire to influence change at a grassroots and policy level, so that in the future, every Australian woman truly experienced equity, and had a “fair go” at every opportunity that presented itself, instead of battling racial biases and discrimination.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
Right now I’m riding the wave of excitement generated by the Women Acknowledging Women awards event that concluded recently. The awards event is aimed at creating public awareness of the contributions that Muslim women hailing from diverse backgrounds are making on a daily basis, in their local communities. We received 65 unique nominations this year from all over Australia, with women innovating in the fields of STEM, the arts, community leadership, youth engagement and women’s empowerment. The response we received from nominees and their friends and family was overwhelming, but also the hugely positive support we received from the non-Muslim community highlighted the need for such initiatives to showcase that Muslim women have been negatively stereotyped by the media, and that in reality they’re empowered, independent women influencing change in their own ways.
What’s a key issue facing women in your profession or line of work right now?
Islamophobia is a key issue that is affecting Muslim women at the moment. This was repeatedly raised at the Regional Advisory Council meetings within the Hume region of Victoria, which is quite a diverse region. I want to share some statistics with you that were published within a report published in 2017 by Deakin University:
Women, especially those with Islamic head covering (79.6% of the female victims), have been the main targets of Islamophobia. One-in-three female victims had their children with them at the time of the reported incident of racial abuse and discrimination.
Of the perpetrators, 98% were identified by those who reported the incident as ethnically Anglo-Celtic. After verbal threats and assaults, physical harassment was the second highest category of incidents (29.6%). Most reported physical assaults occurred in New South Wales (60%) and Victoria (26.7%).
What exacerbates this issue in the consistently negative portrayal of Muslims by major Australian news agencies, and the vilification of Muslims by key political leaders. All of these messages contribute to Muslim women, who are visibly religious, becoming the targets of discrimination, whether in public or in the workplace.
The best tip you’ve been given in your career?
The best tip I’ve ever received is to cultivate the following three attributes: adaptability, resilience and optimism – the adaptability to manoeuvre through any logistical or bureaucratic hurdles and work the plan into action; the resilience to keep pushing through even if support structures collapse and relationships break down; and the optimism to see the higher purpose and not become bitter and jaded through it all.
How have mentors, sponsors or some other kind of support system aided your career, if at all?
I have been fortunate enough to have a number of female mentors, some of whom I’ve worked with directly, and others who have influenced me from afar. One of them is Hana Assafiri, the founder of the Moroccan Soup Bar, a Victorian Honour Roll of Women inductee and an OAM recipient. Hana is a social justice advocate, human rights activist and a Muslim feminist committed to plural and strong communities by offering platforms of social engagement. She has influenced me because she has defied the odds within her own community and the wider Australian community to build a network of strong, resilient Muslim Australian women who take pride in their diverse heritage and use it to galvanise positive change.
As well as your career, what other priorities do you juggle?
I am a secondary school teacher by profession, so any community advocacy work has to be managed while keeping my full-time professional role in mind. This is also done in tandem with juggling my family responsibilities, especially since becoming a new mum a month ago. I am also a bit of a fitness junkie, which has had to take a backseat during my pregnancy and birth journey. Right now, my priority is to maintain my physical and mental wellbeing while keeping all the other aspects of my life functional and flowing.
How do you manage your wellbeing and stay at the top of your game?
I remind myself that it is okay to ask for help and take a break as needed, even though these attitudes have been very challenging for me to cultivate. As I’ve grown older and realised my physical and emotional limitations, I have learnt to articulate my feelings to those closest to me, along with keeping focused on key priorities instead of trying to do everything at once. I have learnt to value my time, and hence culled any activities or relationships that use time ineffectively or have a negative impact on me. This approach, coupled with a strong network of women, keeps me focused on my endeavours and prevents burnout and fatigue.
Where do you currently get news and info regarding your industry and career?
I have cultivated what I believe to be a reliable social media and email feed which enables me to access information relevant to my field of work and areas of interest. I also have a vetted network of community influencers who I rely on for information.
Got a business or career book or podcast you’d recommend?
Right now, I’m enjoying Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”