Living Spirit: Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum: the right to participate in social change - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

key data

Preston, Victoria
Implemented by: 
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria and other partners
Started in: 
September, 2006
Over 140 women and girls from different cultural backgrounds and living in Australia
Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship, under the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion

Over 140 women and girls from a variety of different cultural backgrounds attended this one-day interactive forum52, aiming to:

  • Promote harmony and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims;
  • Develop strategies to combat religious and racial discrimination and vilification against women;
  • Provide an effective way of making Muslim women’s voices heard and for them to express their concerns, needs and aspirations;
  • Increase understanding of legal protections against discrimination and vilification in Australia.
Identifying the need: 

The forum was a response to findings of the Commission’s Isma ع Report53, which stated that women, especially those wearing forms of religious dress, most acutely feel the impact of racial and religious discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians. They also found in their consultations with women that most incidents of racism raised were not reported to the police or other government authorities, due to fear of victimisation, lack of trust in the authorities, and a lack of knowledge about the law and complaints procedures.


Through the forum participants developed a number of strategies. These included educating the Muslim community about anti-discrimination laws, e.g., where to go to make complaints and report crimes, and improving the access to complaints procedures through the provision of interpreters and checklists to support complaints.


Extracts from the Living Spirit Forum Agenda - Workshop titles

‘How I can, NOT why I can’t’?
Why should I make a complaint and how to cope with crisis
What are the complaints procedures/mechanisms available? Where can you go for help? How can the complaints process be improved? Why is it important to report incidents?

‘I’m not racist but…’ Confronting negative stereotypes and misconceptions
‘Image vs. Reality – how to answer the hard questions’
How can you combat negative stereotyping? What are the FAQs that you need to know the answers to? How do you respond to basic questions, e.g. ‘why do you wear the hijab?’ ‘Why are Muslim women oppressed?’ ‘Why are all terrorists Muslim?’ ‘What does Islam say about terrorism?’

‘Educate a woman, educate a nation’
The importance of combating negative stereotypes
Using a role play and examples of existing stereotypes of Muslims and non-Muslims; how accurate are these stereotypes? Have you ever used these stereotypes? Confronting your own prejudices and how can you combat negative stereotypes?