Women of Diversity

July 31, 2017 by J-Wire News Service
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Over 350 women from across Sydney and communities worldwide attended the second annual Women of Diversity Dinner in Bankstown on Saturday night – half of them newly arrived from the Middle East, many of them Christians fleeing persecution, sexual slavery and genocide.


Some have themselves been victims of kidnapping; one was lucky enough to redeem her kidnapped son by paying a huge ransom. A large number have husbands, sons and other family members currently trapped in besieged cities in Syria and Iraq.

But on Saturday night in Bankstown they danced, sang and cried to a program including Ruth Fessaha’s poetry and that of Somali Muslim refugee Hani Abdile, the music of Dalia Dior and Judy Campbell’s Community of Choirs, a troupe of Punjabi giddha dancers, inspirational words from  Indian lawyer Mittu Gopalan and a belly dancer with a live snake. Keynote speaker Dr Rachael Kohn spoke about the diversity of women in her own family and worldwide, and the power of faith and stories.

The event was instigated in 2016 by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies to establish a coalition of organisations, including the Australia South Sea Islanders-Port Jackson, the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia, the  Board of Deputies, the SAHELI South Asian Women’s Network, Settlement Services International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Uniting Church in Australia NSW-ACT.

“The Women of Diversity isn’t just about an annual dinner – it’s about bringing women together to develop themselves and their communities for the greater good of Sydney,” said Board of Deputies community relations and policy manager Lynda Ben-Menashe.

Last year the most important outcome of the dinner was that all the organisations involved sent women to participate in the Board of Deputies’ pilot “We Are All Sydney” community leadership program. Eighteen women from 15 communities graduated from the program in June and demand for a 2018 program is overwhelming. Many of the guests at the dinner were also graduates of the Board of Deputies’ long-running Shared Table project, which since 2012 has brought together hundreds of diverse women to share food and stories and break down stereotypes and prejudices.

“This is the core business of the Board of Deputies, “ said Ben-Menashe. “Bringing people together in myriad forums to strengthen the fabric of our society. We eat together, we talk together, we find out what we care about together and then we fight for those things. Eventually, we stand together in coalitions like the 31-member Keep NSW Safe group to lobby our government to strengthen the law against racist speech, including antisemitism.”

“Let us,

Snap the stereotypes of,

The “perfect woman,”

The “perfect leader.”

Leave these fictions of

Unattainable ideals

On the bookshelf and,

Give me something real to read like,

She failed, yet she got back up

She lost everything, only to gain it back.

She struggled to cope, yet she found peace.

She had little, yet cared for others’ needs.

Let us,

Break the headlines once again,

Because great women

Are not new news.

And some of the greatest women

I know, aren’t even on the news.”

Excerpt from slam poem written and performed by Ethiopian-Australian Ruth Fessaha



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