Dispelling the Myths
The inaugural Australian Arab Women's Dialogue under the theme of ‘talking the place to a better place’ took place in Australia from 15-27 March 2013. The aim of this civil society initiative was to raise awareness amongst Australians about the role of Arab women in building their societies particularly following the aftermath of the so-called ‘Arab spring’. Eight women were selected as delegates representing eight Arab countries from a range of professions. As the project manager of the dialogue I was struck by the immense support from a range of sponsors and by the warm public response which was phenomenal and demonstrated the huge interest and ‘hunger’ for knowledge about Arabic women in the Middle East. For many, Arab women are still shrouded in mystery, hidden behind closed doors or the veil.
The program was structured on giving the delegates opportunities to meet prominent individuals in Australian society such as the Governor General, the Governor of NSW, senior female politicians from both the government and opposition, senior bureaucrats, magistrates from the family courts, human rights commissioners, business leaders, media professionals and civil society activists. It was an intense program with over 30 events in 3 cities (Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne).
The Dialogue has enjoyed a great success evidenced in the sponsorship and interest received from a range of key stakeholders; the immense media coverage; and the public forums that were always completely booked out. The Dialogue highlighted the need for these cross-cultural conversations to dispel the myths and misconception in society about ‘the other’.
Now that the delegates have returned home safely and I am writing a report about the Dialogue, one question worries me, and that is, ‘where do we go from here?’ Many people assume that there is a formal organisation behind the Dialogue but the truth is there is none. The challenge for us is how can we maintain the momentum of goodwill that the Dialogue engendered and can this experience be replicated at the local level by hosting a Dialogue between Australian and Arab -Australian women.