As part of International Women’s Day and Harmony Week for 2021, MWA presented an inspiring and heartfelt event, ‘Challenge with Purpose’, bringing together local and state stakeholders and women’s service providers to reflect and look back on the challenges and successes which shaped the present, to realign, heal and move forward together, in better supporting each other to support communities.
The event began with a moving Welcome to Country by Aunty Barb Keeley, who shared some of her personal story and reflections, growing up as a young Aboriginal woman in La Perouse, and the importance of understanding the differences that can actually bring us together, and that the world is big enough for all of us.
One of the highlights of the event was the lounge conversation with some amazingly inspirational women, who are sector leaders in Cultural Inclusion, Women’s Safety, Women’s Health,
Homelessness and Social Services.
The panellists included Hajeh Maha Abdo, CEO – MWA; Sharlene McKenzie, proud Wiradjuri woman and General Manager Inclusion and Engagement – 3Bridges Community; Denele Crozier – CEO, Women’s Health NSW; Hayley Foster – CEO, Women’s Safety NSW; Katherine McKernan – CEO, Homelessness NSW; and Joanna Quilty – CEO, NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS).
The panellists had an open and honest discussion, sharing their own journey in leadership and advocacy, and how we can effectively work together to ensure all women’s voices are heard and represented.
Women are the overwhelming victims of violence in this country and for Muslim women gendered violence in intersects with Islamophobia in public spaces. To ensure everybody belongs we need to work towards removing structural barriers to poverty, disadvantage and inequality and work toward equitable access.
Sharlene spoke about the importance of recognising each other’s world views, and that as long as we are open and honest with each other, and we speak from the heart, then we can do wonderful things together. We can build on our strengths through our storytelling and truth telling and to give us the space to really listen to each other.
Joanna commented on the need not only for laws and policies to effect change, but that it is also about the cultures and systems in place that enable the change to take place. We can continue to find new ways to effect change and that we will do this best through collaboration.
The panellists also discussed the notion of doing work that aligned with your values, with Denele reflecting on how she navigated her way through her work, and that once you find where you’re going to do the best work, that is what will work for you. Denele also shared the importance of recognising your own values and always ensuring you remain respectful of the values of the people you serve through your work.
On the topic of representation, Hayley emphasised the need to ensure that the people who are in the room need to be reflective of the women they are representing, and how the women who are given platforms have a responsibility to ensure that representation is always considered. She also discussed the importance of advocacy, and nurturing and celebrating young women in the space.
Katherine shared some of her learnings in the homelessness sector and how they have been able to create the space not just for listening, but also engaging and action. That it is important to not only acknowledge difference but also enable people who have the expertise, who know what needs to be done, to guide the rest of the space.
“We are not making noise, we are making sense”, remarked Hajeh Maha when discussing the need to amplify the voices of women. Hajeh Maha shared some of her own insights and advice in promoting actual understanding and open communication among women in various spaces. She emphasised the need for more deep listening conversations and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. We do need each other and we need to be more mindful of how we can work together better, and not leave anyone behind.
The insights shared by the inspiring panellists echoed the commitment of MWA, as an organisation which represents Muslim women nationally and advocates for the right of all women; to ensure culturally and religiously safe best practice in working toward social inclusion and social cohesion for women as a whole, and to keep striving towards achieving this. The notions of harmony, diversity and inclusion, are more than just ideas, they require action, and we remain confident in the power of coming together, listening to one another, and using our voices to achieve better outcomes for all.