A Lismore Women’s Festival event held last Thursday, focusing on Muslim and non-Muslim women coming together, packed out the venue where it was held.
‘So many people came,’ said Sabina Baltruweit, Remembering and Healing (RaH) coordinator. ‘They just kept arriving and people ended up sitting on the floor at the front and it was standing room only at the back.’
The panel discussed both the similarities and differences between Muslim and non-Muslim women.
‘People were interested in the dress code and the hijab for women,’ said Baltruweit.
‘Panellists talked about how women are oppressed in different ways and women’s bodies are objectified differently in different cultures. They also spoke about how this is part of Muslim culture but not one of the five pillars of Islam and that how people dress has taken different forms in different culture and countries.’
The panel discussion was between two Muslim women, Dr Zuleyha Keskin from the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University and local mediator Rashida Joseph and Lismore ex-Mayor Jenny Dowell and long-time feminist community activist Kate Lavender. This was followed by round table discussions giving people a chance for more intimate interactions.
‘One person said the afternoon of discussion had really helped her understand more about Islam,’ continued Baltruweit. ‘She said she feels more able to talk within her family about Islam where there are more reservations.’
The success of the event has inspired organisers to begin thinking about how else they can bridge the gaps in understanding between cultures. ‘We want to build on the experience and work out how to reach other parts of the population.’