Ladies for peace

Women of diversity gather to build much-needed socio-economic bridges.

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From traditional owners of the land to others newly arrived on these shores, the Himalayan Emporium Function Centre in Bankstown recently played host to a wonderful mélange of women. Together, they represented several faiths, and many more nations from around the world.

Mittu Gopalan

Beginning the evening as complete strangers, barriers were soon broken down as the three hundred and fifty women formed new friendships. Over a sumptuous vegetarian meal spanning many cuisines, they examined life’s weighty issues and the more mundane ones, only to discover the many common threads and mutual interests. Cross-cultural dialogue thus became a powerful tool for peace building.

Sarah Dezsenyi and Sharanya Napier-Raman

Now in its second year, Women of Diversity Dinner (WDD) not only mirrored the changing fabric of contemporary Australian society but also celebrated the unique role women play in fostering relationships by countering fear, disapproval and violence.

Punjabna Evergreen ghidda dancers

Building on earlier successes with inter-faith dialogues and Shared Table Project, WDD was conceived in 2015 by women from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Prominent south Asian community group, SAHELI soon came on board with the aim of making mainstream connections and engaging with other migrant groups.

Dr Rachael Kohn

Retaining core concepts of sharing food, stories and good times, the event has since reached out to all refugee, migrant and CALD groups in a bid to build much-needed socio-economic bridges.

Lynda Ben-Menashe

The coalition of like-mined women now includes the Australia South Sea Islanders-Port Jackson, the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia, Settlement Services International, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Uniting Church in Australia NSW-ACT.

Jenni Michelson, Smita Shah and Judy Friedlander

In fact, representatives from participating organisations were recently involved in the pilot “We are all Sydney” leadership programme.

Sarah Dezsenyi and Sharanya Napier-Raman

The initiative has been passionately espoused by community leaders Judy Singer, Aunty Shireen Malamoo, Gael Kennedy and Emelda Davis Karen Stagg, Shanta Viswanthan, Shanti Raman and Mala Mehta.

ABC Radio host Dr Rachael Kohn shared deeply personal insights on the power of faith and role of story-telling.

Karen Stagg, Hani Abdile and Shanti Raman

“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,” Board of Deputies Community Relations and Policy Manager Lynda Ben-Menashe stated.

“Bringing people together in myriad forums to strengthen the fabric of our society is our core business. We eat together, talk together, find out what we care about collectively and then fight for those things. Eventually, we stand together in coalitions like the 31-member Keep NSW Safe group to pressure our government to strengthen the law against racist incitement, including against the Jewish community,” she added.

“Half of the gathering,” she explained “has newly arrived from the Middle East, many of them Christians fleeing persecution, sexual slavery and genocide. Some have 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.”

Shanti Raman

“But on (this occasion) 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,” Ben-Menashe noted.

Ruth Fessaha’s poignant words summed up the grit and determination of these brave women.
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.

Photos: Giselle Haber Photography