When we look at global politics right now, it is easy to get disheartened about the uprising of hatred, fear, racism and strong sentiments that seek to divide people based on their skin color, religion, gender, or socio-economic status. This is a familiar scenario all throughout history. But it’s also important to know there are leaders who are willing to take a stand against hate and represent the progressive movement of people around the world who believe in diversity and inclusion.
One of those women is Australian politician Anne Aly, who has officially become the country’s first female Muslim MP, representing the Western Australian seat of Cowan in the House of Representatives. Anne is a member of the oppositional Labor party, and has a background as a political scholar, academic, and counter-terrorism expert.
Her election to Australian Parliament comes at an important time in global elections, with the increase of right-wing populist leaders gaining powerful political positions. The last federal Australian election may have seen the conservative Liberal party retain its majority in the coalition government, but a right-wing fringe party called One Nation led by Pauline Hanson, a known agitator whose racist opinions and statements have been around since the mid 1990’s, also gained a seat in the Australian Senate.
Similar to what we saw in the US Presidential election where Trump managed to tap into a segment of disenfranchised white voters by making it seem as if their problems should be blamed on issues like immigration, minorities and certain religious groups, Pauline Hanson had made that a staple of her message throughout the decades.
This election was historic for a number of reasons, and it shows that the multicultural Australian population is finally seeing an increase in representation at the national level. MP Linda Burney, representing the seat of Barton in the state of New South Wales, became the first Aboriginal female MP elected to Parliament, and she gave an historic speech where she paid homage to her Indigenous ancestors.
Anne Aly also gave a powerful speech, talking about her upbringing as an Egyptian woman migrating to Australia, raising two young boys as a single mother, and constantly being scrutinized and second-guessed because of her identity. In the video below, which we highly recommend watching in full, she talks about being singled out as the target of smear campaigns because of where she was born, her Muslim faith as well as her gender.
“I was about eight years older when I started to realize just how the circumstances of my birth affected expectations of me as a woman, as a Muslim and as a minority. We’ve worked hard, through years of trials and tribulations, of being called a b***h, ruthless, being told we care too much about fashion or not enough,” she said.
Like many female politicians in countries where they are in the minority (including the US), Anne has experienced her fair share of criticisms that, at this point, could literally come from the text book of political and cultural sexism.
“Too often I’m told I must be quiet – I’m not very good at being a delicate flower – that I should be grateful for the equality and opportunities afforded to me because I live in Australia and not Saudi Arabia. Too often I’m told that I should be happy that I even have a place at the table, too often I’m told by men that i should have stayed in the kitchen,” she said.
The Emily’s List-backed MP spoke about how despite being an accomplished scholar, because she was a woman, it put her in a completely different category to that of her male peers. Often being the only woman in a boardroom or on a panel of men, she was used to having her ideas trampled on, or just outright credited to a male instead.
“It was then I discovered the incredible power that we women have – we are invisible. Put us in a room of alpha males and we don an imaginary cloak of invisibility,” she said. Yet her powerful presence in Parliament shows just how visible and audible she is today. Her perseverance paid off.
Anne is no stranger to feeling like an outsider, even among women’s groups, and wants to change the way feminism looks at Muslim women around the world (who are not a monolith, just like Christians, Buddhists, Mormons, Catholics, etc).
“At times I have felt left out, let down or ignored by Western feminism. Not by purpose, or by intention, but because Western feminism has tended to view women like me as lacking autonomy, as being uniformly oppressed, and as a women who needs saving,” she said, echoing similar sentiments to many intersectional feminists around the world who are fighting to create more space and visibility for women of color in order to move away from the White-centric model of feminism the movement is so used to seeing.
Drawing on her expertise as a counter-terrorism expert, as well as the many racist-driven critiques of her work, Anne firmly and intelligently outlined some of what she will be working toward on behalf of her constituents during her time in Parliament, pointing to the current global political climate of division.
“This is a critical time in Australia’s political history, a time when our parliament is beset by an unprecedented polarization of ideas and ideologies, a time when our only chance to move forward as a nation is to come together, regardless of where we sit on the political spectrum, in mutual respect and with a common goal of serving our nation. It is a time when we should not allow important discussions about our future to degenerate into a competitive agenda of rights, for all rights are worth pursuing and worth pursuing with vigor,” she said.
She also laid out her views on certain issues, showing that there is a time for a black and white stance, but there also needs to be an emphasis on nuance for areas that will not be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach, including tackling terrorism and ideologically-driven violence.
“I do not accept, for example, that the right to freedom of speech is any less or any more important than the right to safety and security for all our citizens. Too often those who espouse their right to freedom of speech argue that it is undermined, weakened, by those who would call out bigotry or racism or who draw attention to the ability for hate speech to mobilize violence. So let me be clear: I will defend freedom of speech to the last, but I will not stand by and allow the proponents of hatred and fear, no matter where they come from, to claim some form of moral superiority as they browbeat fellow Australians into accepting second-class citizenship,” she said.
If you want to see more of Anne’s in-depth analysis on counter-terrorism and hear about the work she has done over the years, we highly recommend watching her appearance on news panel show ‘Q and A’, her talk on engaging the Arab world i a changing time at Curtin University, and her speech at the Australian Institute of Criminology where she spoke about using key communicative tools in battling extremism and terrorism.
Included in her speech below was a message to young, Muslim women who often live in fear and don’t pursue their full potential because of race and fear-driven hateful climates they don’t want to become the target of. In the spirit of true intersectional feminism, Anne says equality and inclusion means lifting up the voices of those who don’t typically get the spotlight. For all those who feel they are left out or ignored completely, this also applies to you.
“We will never achieve true gender equality until the most marginalized among us can share in that success. We’re not separate voices that whisper in the background, we are and should be front and center. We need to go out and find capable, intelligent women of color and encourage them to apply themselves in all areas,” she said.
Watch the full speech below, and be encouraged by the presence of women like MP Anne Aly who we hope to see more of in the global resistance against division, violence, racism and oppression.