Second annual Women of Diversity Dinner

“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 (pictured above), at the second annual Women of Diversity Dinner.

Over 350 women from diverse backgrounds across Sydney 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 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 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 (below right), host of ABC Radio’s ‘The Spirit of Things’, spoke about the diversity of women in her own family the power of faith and story-telling.

  

The event was instigated in 2016 by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies in order to establish a coalition of like-mined 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 Womens Network, Settlement Services International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Uniting Church in Australia NSW-ACT.

Judy Singer, Aunty Shireen Malamoo, Gael Kennedy and Emelda Davis
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,” said Board of Deputies Community Relations and Policy Manager Lynda Ben-Menashe.

The most valuable outcome of the first 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 this year’s dinner were also graduates of the Board of Deputies’ long-running Shared Table project, which has brought together hundreds of diverse women to share food and stories and break down stereotypes and prejudices since 2012.

“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, 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.”