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Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

On 16 October 2017, Rachel Bexendale of The Australian wrote an article about Plan international’s misleadingly pairing Education Minister Simon Birmingham as part of their #girlstakeover Program.

The article describes me as a “32-year-old Muslim activist”. An activist is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. I support women’s empowerment but am not part of any political party or campaign. Therefore I am an advocate of women’s empowerment but not an activist and certainly not a political one. I do not have, or claim to have, any political affiliations.

Plan admitted to making a mistake in communicating to Senator Birmingham that he would be paired with an “adolescent girl advocate” but at no point was I informed that this was the communication with him. If I had known I would not have proceeded. I attended a two day training with Plan where I vocalised my age but was not asked to withdraw. Instead I was paired with the Senator. I understand this was a genuine mistake and I hold no ill will towards either Plan International or the Senator.

While I agree with the crux of the Senator’s letter, I am disappointed that despite writing “Without wishing to reflect on the woman in question” he proceeded to do just that by stating incorrectly my age and that I am a political activist, but more importantly by assuming that I am “driven by alternative activist motivations” which is wholly untrue. I entered this competition because I believe in the right of all girls regardless of age, appearance, ability, creed and race to be empowered. I looked forward to discussing with the Senator how our Education system could facilitate this.

I am also disappointed that Plan deputy chief executive Susanne Legena’s comment, “Plan is fiercely non-party-political. It’s a mistake we made,” was written in a way that did not clarify that I am non-party-political.

The article indicates I did not respond to a request for comment. The request for comment came via email at 1:36pm on Sunday and stated a 4pm deadline on the same day. I didn’t see the email till 8pm and felt no need to respond if the deadline had passed. I also waited till after the event to post this reply as I did not wish to detract from the importance of the event and the coverage it deserves.

The author chose to misrepresent my online presence by stating that my blog contains posts about implementation of shariah law when in fact the blog post clearly states that the post is lecture notes from an open workshop held at Australian National University (ANU) about what shariah law is. If the author had cared to read the blog post – she would have realised the post states that there is no need for shariah law to be implemented in Australia as Muslim enjoy the full range of rights they require under Australian Law. She goes onto state that I have ‘videos of hairstyle tips to hijabis’. I have A video of hairCARE tips to hijabis. The rush to pen and print a sensationalist story sacrificed the facts. Besides the notes from that workshop, my blog also contains posts on my work with women and girls education, empowerment and health. Posts on Cricket, Korean dramas, charity work, poems and short stories. A decades’ worth of non-Islam related posts were overlooked and only Islam related topics were mentioned to sensationalise the story and further polarise the narrative.

Interestingly, the Huffington Post wote an article, federal education minister Simon Birmingham pulled out, the next day, which covers the same thing in a more straightforward manner (some lessons to be learnt here methinks!). The Huffington post article repeated the use of activist (although kudos to them they removed ‘political’ probably because a quick google search proved otherwise) and in doing so proved that repetition creates reinforcement of an idea, whether it is a fact or not. The Senator’s letter used the words and they were repeated by journalists. The lesson we can take from this, Senator, Journalist or member of the public, is to check our facts before making statements. And being mindful of the impact of what we say or write about a woman or women in general, especially if we exhort to supporting women in the same breath, letter or article.

The crux of the matter is that without confirming who I am and what I represent, I have been misrepresented as a political activist driven by alternative activist motivations to polarise an incident and detract from the real issues and the very important and much needed exposure and platform Plan International is providing young women to nurture their leadership ambitions.

The real issue is that girls do not see themselves represented in leadership roles and thus have decreasing leadership ambitions. Read the report by Plan here. And if my experience is anything to go by – the moment a girl steps into the public space she is judged with an armload of assumptions – so why would girls dare to nurture their leadership ambitions?

The real issue is that a female journalist misused her platform to misrepresent another female. I am not afraid to be known as a Muslim – I am proud of it. I am not upset that she stated I am a Muslim that writes about Islam in the article – I am proud of it. My concern is her lack of journalistic integrity allowed her to capitalise on my faith, and passion for my faith, by sensationalising her article with a focus on that, rather than the incident at hand. Fear of misrepresentation is one of the main reasons girls’ leadership ambitions are not nurtured – especially girls from minority and ethnic backgrounds.

The real issue is that activism has been tainted as a dirty word and something to be afraid of when activism is what has earned women and people of colour the rights they have today. I am not an activist because I do not campaign for, or affiliate with a political party. But if I was to become one – there is no shame in that. Enduring positive impact has to come from within the system and girls and women with leadership ambitions need to advocate for more political activists (regardless of colour, creed, ability and gender) within the existing system who will represent them and provide them with opportunity.

The real issue is that people fear what they do not understand. I am an open book. I come up in Google search results. If you want to know who I am and what I am about – come and talk to me. Don’t sit and make assumptions about who I am and use that as an excuse not to interact with me. This is what creates barriers between classes, genders and religions and the perception of the Other that I have written about previously. Don’t hate – Communicate.

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