Wednesday, 30 April 2008

bad ideas

seems like a week of not so bright ideas. with all the pressure around the food and petrol price rises and high mortgage rates, the pressure is building to do something, anything.

so mr dunne has put forth the income-splitting proposal again. which is a bad idea because it doesn't help genuinely poor families. families with children that have a family income of around $40,000 to $50,000 are already paying zero tax (through working for family tax credits) so won't benefit. families with incomes less than $38,000 will get very little benefit, as they are already on the lowest tax rate anyway. income-splitting won't help families where both partners are earning between $38,000 and $60,000 or where both partners are earning more than $60,000. so who does that leave? very few families, but especially single high-income families. these are not the people that need the most relief from high food and petrol prices. there is no point in reducing the tax base to help those on higher incomes, while providing little or no relief for those on low incomes. at least it doesn't make sense if you actually care about reducing poverty and helping those most in need.

the other bad idea put out this week was the proposal to make food items gst exempt. the reasons why this is a bad idea are pretty well covered on the standard, and this discussion on public address is pretty useful. i can speak from my own experience as a chartered accountant. it would be a very bad idea. it would be so bad that i would seriously consider leaving my profession rather than having to deal with the administrative nightmares involved. more than that, it doesn't solve the underlying problems, which are largely international in nature and not likely to be solved by domestic policy settings.

across the board tax cuts tend to have the same problems as income-splitting - they benefit those on higher incomes most, so do nothing to reduce poverty for those at the bottom end.

so those are the bad ideas. now it's time to think up some good ones! the basic ones are generally the best: reduce household debt, particularly debt used to fuel consumption (ok, difficult for those on lower incomes, but possible for higher income earners). stop investing in property and start investing in productive assets. and targetted tax relief for those most in need.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

left behind

it's been a pretty hectic day. aside from my normal workday (and unexpected childcare crisis in the morning), i attended the worker's memorial day event in hamilton, then went to the monthly board meeting for community radio and finished off the day by driving to auckland (and back) for the launch of the child poverty action group report "left behind".

needless to say, i'm pretty tired just now, so will give random impressions of the day.

the workers memorial day service was pretty moving, especially with the attendance of the fire service to commemorate the recent death of their colleague derek lovell. also present in numbers were the rail and maritime transport union, remembering the death of one their workers in hamilton last year.

it was a pretty good turn out with some excellent speakers. the figures were quite sad, particularly ACC figures around the numbers of workers who go on to long-term compensation each year because of a workplace injury. sorry, i'm too tired to go looking for them now.

noticably absent were any employer groups. to be fair, it may be because they weren't aware of the event. in future years, i'd like to see the employers and manufacturers association there, as well as federated farmers (given that the agriculture industry has a relatively high number of deaths). as the speaker for the RMTU said, issues of health and safety can only be resolved when all groups make a joint effort to deal with them.

the CPAG launch was interesting. enjoyed hearing tapu misa speak - she's a writer i admire greatly. i didn't agree with everything said at the launch but there were some very pertinent points.

the approach this government has taken to reducing poverty is to get people into work. it's by far the best option, as it restores dignity, gives purpose and puts people on to a career path which will lead to an improvement in their situation. combined with this is the focus on training and upskilling, particularly with the modern apprenticeship programme, intererst free student loans and the cap on tertiary fees.

however, this approach does not address the poverty faced by children of beneficiaries. the massive gap created by the ruth richardson "mother of all budgets" has never been reversed. i understand that the government of the time did some research into the minimum income required to survive. the benefit was then set to 80% of that amount.

since then (possibly before then as well), the narrative around beneficiaries has been that they are all lazy bludgers, sucking off the state, using up the money earnt by the rest of us hard-working taxpayers while sitting on their bums doing nothing. this is the attitude that has prevailed, with few serious challenges. ms misa acknowledged the role the media has played in perpetuating this myth. it's something that needs to be turned around if we are going to be serious about dealing with child poverty.

i think back to one of my earliest posts, where i made the point that nz'ers are not nearly as generous as we like to think we are. when it comes to people on benefits, we're not very generous at all. while some beneficiaries will fall into the narrative outlined above, i would say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times, and plenty are genuinely unable to work. (i'm meaning all benefits here - disability, domestic purposes etc.)

i wonder how many nz'ers would today, if asked, be prepared to give up tax cuts this year and next year in order for that money to be paid out for the children of beneficiaries? the CPAG report is clear about the effects of poverty on the development of children. money is not the only solution, but money can start making things happen.

for example, one speaker made the point that the neighbourhoods where the poor people live are the neighbourhoods where the least amount of services are provided. he gave the example of early childhood education centres. few of these are located in poor suburbs, as compared to affluent suburbs, because so much ECE is privately provided. private providers know that in poor suburbs, they won't be able to earn the profits they need so will not set up solely to provide the 20 free hours. the way to deal with this issue is to adequately fund community-based not-for-profit centres, and that needs money. taxpayer money.

there's a lot to think about, and i hope to read the report in the coming weeks. the important point is that we, as a society, need to be serious about removing income inequalities if we want to give every child a positive start in life.

Monday, 28 April 2008

workers memorial day

i watched the video clip of one of the men involved in the london bombing as he said goodbye to his daughter. my feelings ranged from feeling sad to feeling sick to feeling extremely angry. the sadness was for his family and his victims. the sickness was at the way this person had lost his moral compass so much that he could commit mass murder in cold blood, and somehow think it was his ticket to heaven. the anger was at his claim that he was committing this act "for islam". i felt that phrase as a personal insult. by using those words, he was associating himself to me and to the other 1.4 billion muslims around the world, by way of our supposedly shared religion. yet the vast majority of them have condemned his act. muslim scholars from around the world have been increasingly vocal in condemning violence and terrorist acts, and particularly bombings such as these.

i caught the tail end of the programme "give it a whirl" on tv1 this saturday morning. it seemed to be about a christian man going to live as a muslim for a month. when i tuned in, his muslim host was expressing disapproval at the christian fellow apologising for the 9/11 bombing on a radio programme (the christian appeared to be posing as a muslim for the show). the muslim explained that by apologising, he was accepting that he somehow had a responsibility for the attack, when in fact there was none. guilt by association is simply unacceptable, yet it's very hard to escape.

tomorrow is worker's memorial day, being commemorated in various places across the country. it's a day to remember workers who have died while at work. the figures i've linked to don't inlcude "fatalities in the maritime or aviation sectors, or fatalities due to work-related crashes on the road as these are investigated by Maritime New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the NZ Police respectively. The Department of Labour figures do not include fatalities from long latency diseases caused by exposure to hazardous substances." so the number of deaths is much higher.

in an environment where health and safety laws are treated as "red-tape", as adding unnecessarily to labour costs, and as "nanny-statism"; it's vital that we take time to remember why these laws are so important. they save lives. they prevent accidents. if manufacturers like fisher & paykel are taking their work off-shore because of over-regulation, we really need to be asking which parts of the health and safety regulations they think are unnecessary?

many years ago now, i visited a factory in india where brass doorknobs and the like were manufactured. the workers were mainly teenage boys, very skinny. they wore no protective clothing. they were breathing in smoke and who knows what else, with nothing to protect them. i can only imagine the pittance they were being paid. at the time i didn't have the courage to grill our host who was giving us a tour of the family business he was so proud of. a business that allowed him to live in a beautiful mansion, with chauffer-driven cars and all the other accoutrements of the high-class asian life.

looking back now, it amazes me that he could go to work every day and be immune to the work conditions of his staff. but he is very obviously not unique. that so many major companies around the world are shifting their centre of operations to low-wage economies shows the blindness is universal.

tomorrow we need to be thinking not just about nz workers, but about all those around the world. especially those who have little or no protection. it's not that there aren't any labour laws in these countries. it's that the laws can be flouted with little or no consequence. it's that the regulations are seen as tedious and a barrier to successful business. it's the loss of humanity in the search for ever-rising profits.

i hope people aren't all grieved out from anzac day. we must spare a moment to grieve for dead workers too.

Friday, 25 April 2008

anzac day

lot's of interesting discussion about anzac day today. i really enjoyed this piece in the herald today by irfan yusuf. less enjoyable, but still worth listening to was this discussion on the panel today (can't believe i've linked to chris trotter twice in a week!). i think it went on too long and was too repetitive, but the initial discussion did raise some good points. finally, this alternative commemoration of peacemakers was brought to my attention by email today.

parts of the peace movement regard anzac day as a celebration of war. i like to think of it more as a rememberance of the dead. it's a rememberance of courage and strength, and a mourning of the loss of life. there are times and places where we should be active in denouncing and protesting against war, but i don't think anzac day is one of them.

however, remembering peacemakers is another issue. i think we should recognise the courage of the people who refused to go to war for reasons of conscience. they often had a very difficult time, although were unlikely to be as much at risk as soldiers on the battlefield. the peacemakers were making a very public stand for principles they strongly believed in, and i don't think including them in our thoughts diminishes the recognition of our soldiers.

i also would have to agree with mr trotter, in that we seem to have imbued the first world war with modern values that weren't apparent at the time. we commemorate a more sanitised version of events, possibly endowing them with more than was there in order to increase the poignancy of the rememberance.

it's certain that WW1 was not about democracy and freedom. we know it can't be so because the side we were fighting for was a colonial power that was not at all interested, at that time, in establishing democracy in its colonies. it was a power not much interested in racial equality, and women's sufferage (in britain) was still several years away.

i think it's important to remember that the heroism was in the way the soldiers fought, but not necssarily in what they fought for. i'm no historian, and i'd have to say that my knowledge of the politics of the day is sadly lacking. i wish i knew more, and it's important that we all do know more. to forget the politics of the time is to glorify a past that never existed except in our minds.

to forget the politics and the full history, good and bad, is a failure to learn the lessons of that time. remember, this was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. but it didn't, and we need to understand why.

i'll be going to the commemoration service in hamilton tomorrow. i want to pay my respects to the dead. i want to remember the loss of so many young lives. not to glorify the way they died but to grieve that it had to happen at all.

post script: here is chris trotter's piece in the dom and deborah's post on her blog, both eloquently written.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

men's health

now here's a healthy development. it's the "first men's health meeting", called by hon damien o'connor. about time really.

there are obvious gender differences around health issues, and having men's groups or advocates getting together is much more useful than having women doing it. also, there seems to be a perception that men's health issues don't get the attention that women's health issues do. i would debate that. i think women's health issues, particularly around mental health, were badly neglected for a long time. there has been a lot of hard work around advocacy and lobbying by women's groups for many years that have lead to significant advances, particularly around issues like breast cancer and cervical cancer.

however, by having men's health as a separate delegation in the health portfolio, the perception that men's health is somehow less important can be changed.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


i found this story on the stuff website today. it's about a jewish woman who has responded to the desecration of her husband's grave by educating people about the holocaust, in an attempt to promote tolerance. i applaud it as a superb response to an event that could have caused her to become bitter or angry.

it's a response i can relate to, because it mirrors some of my own experiences. for me, it was the 9/11 attacks and the bali bombings that spurred me to change the way i was living my life. whereas previously i had concentrated on my work and my family, it became patently clear to me that i now had to move out into the community. i had to speak out against these attrocities, and let people know that my religion does not tolerate this kind activity.

it hasn't been an easy thing to do. i remember about 10 years ago from now, when i would literally be shaking (i mean it, physically shaking) if i had to walk into a room full of people i didn't know. social interaction was really difficult a lot of the time due to my own shyness and lack of confidence. nonetheless, i knew that i couldn't stand by and let the hatred and anger spread through our society as it had been overseas. so i stepped out of my own little world into the big wide one, and wow, what a journey it's been.

i hope that i made and continue to make a difference. yet every now and then i come up against a situation that takes me back to the person i was 10 years ago. it happened today. i was invited to a lunch meeting organised by the institute of chartered accountants, with about a dozen people present. as you can imagine, it was a group of upper-class white people, and i stood out like... well, like a coloured muslim woman in a group of upper-class white people.

it didn't help that i'd forgotten about the meeting when i dressed in the morning, so i was wearing something very ethnic in the arab style, with a reasonable amount of black involved. i'm sure that didn't help. at the start of the meeting, i felt like an invisible person. i could sense that most of these people felt uncomfortable with me, and they didn't really want to talk to me. the people i was sitting next to both turned to talk to people on the other side.

whereas previously i would have been dying inside at this treatment, i now have a strategy. it involves breathing deeply, giving myself positive internal messages, relaxing and waiting. sure enough, within half an hour, i was interacting with everyone on an equal footing. people just need time to realise that i'm like them, but dress a little differently. it doesn't usually take long.

it reminds me of an experience i had last year, when i was filming the close-up easter special on interfaith issues. before filming started, the panel sat down for a chat. this was the first time i met rabbi jack engel. initially he was very reserved towards me. not hostile, certainly not rude in any way. just reserved. i could sense maybe a lack of trust or just that feeling of being uncomfortable.

i didn't let it bother me, and chatted to him before, during (in the breaks) and after filming. the moment we connected was when he was describing to me the level of discrimination his community still faces. he told me about the rude comments and taunts he would get when walking from the synagogue to his home. i told him i knew exactly what that feels like, and we both realised that we had a shared experience. pity it was a negative experience, but the connection was important.

i've only talked to the rabbi once since then. i rang him about a month later to ask his help for a friend who was organising a youth interfaith activity. he response was very positive and helpful, and i believe some young jews participated. i hope that things are getting better for him, and that he can walk home in peace.

so kia ora inge woolf for the work that you're doing. every little bit counts. i hope one day i can visit your holocaust centre, and that we too can connect at an emotional level. all these little connections count. for me, they give me hope of a positive future, of a world where our children can be free from hatred, anger and fear.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

pangea day

i'm having a bit of a sad day today. it's very difficult to watch someone close to you going through a difficult time, knowing that you really can't do anything to help them, other than to offer unconditional love and support. sometimes that doesn't feel like enough.

it's also been difficult watching the journalism standards here, which are nothing like what i wrote about yesterday. chris trotter has been the only one i've heard talking about the breach of trust and lack of ethics involved in recording and reporting on a closed session at the labour party conference. this compares to the breach of trust a year or so back, when guyon espiner was involved in broadcasting a pre-interview chat with dr michael cullen. it's the duplicity involved here that is so frustrating: mr espiner was well aware that dr cullen believed he was speaking off the record. and finally, there was the front-page herald report last week giving the impression that the labour party was planning to distribute government information as campaigning material. turns out that there was no such plan; someone had just made an off-the-cuff comment from the floor.

it seems very strange that these kinds of ethical breaches occur only when the labour party is involved. there's been no spying on other parties' annual conferences. closed sessions have thus far been respected as such. there's been no airing of pre-interview chats involving other party's politicians. furthermore, the herald has been found to be in breach of the press council's standard of accuracy. they didn't tell the full truth in that front-page editorial on the EFA last year.

this seems to show that there is some truth in the contention that the main opposition for the labour party in the 2008 campaign won't be the national party. they provide no effective opposition at all. they have no policies, no vision for the country, no leadership skills, and pretty much the same front bench that was in power in the 1990s. no, the main opposition will be the media. and that is a much tougher opposition.

one thing that must be said about the labour team though, is that they don't give up. they take the punches and keep standing back up to fight on. and while the media sideshow continues, they continue running the country and implementing the policies that improve the lives of the majority of new zealanders. that's what it's all about for me, and that's what the conference was about. i don't have to rely on media reports, i was at the labour party conference. and what i saw was an energetic bunch of activists who care deeply about this country, committed to developing and implementing policies that deal with the issues of importance.

so to cheer me up (and hopefully you as well) here is something sent to me by a friend a few days ago. may 10 is the first ever pangea day, when 24 short films will be broadcast simultaneously around the world. it's an attempt to build a global community, a step towards peace, and an encouragement to social action.

for a short taste of the sort of things that are planned, watch these short videos of a choir in one country singing the national anthem of another country. they really are lovely. france sings for the USA, kenya sings for india and japan sings for turkey.

Monday, 21 April 2008

killed in the line of duty

yet again, the really good stuff is screened late at night. last night, i watched veronica guerin, the film about the irish journalist killed after exposing irish drug lords. it was a powerful film, and very sad.

reminded me of another journalist working for reuters, killed in the line of duty in gaza last week. and the aljazeera journalist and other independent journalists killed during the iraq war. in fact, the committee to protect journalists reports that 685 journalists have been killed between 1 january 1992 and 4 april 2008.

i was pondering over why it would matter more when a journalist was killed than any other person. every life has value, and every one has given something or has some potential that should be equally mourned. can we say that the value of a journalist is more than that of a medical specialist or a child or a mother or any other person? probably not.

yet the killing of a journalist is chilling, because of the wider implications. it's like the killing of free speech, or the suppression of truth. the journalist is there to provide us with a true picture of what's happening; independent, without fear or favour. needless to say that there are many who don't live up to that standard. but the ones who walk into danger zones, determined that the truth be brought to the rest of the world, show a special form of courage.

by providing us with the truth, they alter our perceptions and thereby create political pressure for change. in current times, when the truth is so often massaged with spin, when journalists are underpaid and/or under pressure to simply regurgitate press releases, people like veronica guerin are even more valuable.

after watching what happened to her, the herald headline last year announcing the death of democracy seems nothing less than obscene. perhaps some of their editorial staff need to have a good look at what's happening around the world, and have a good think about their continued and unhampered ability to crusade against the EFA. it's a potent reminder of just how lucky we are in this country. democracy is alive and kicking, and journalists' lives are not in any danger.

i just hope that there will be others to take up the pen, to carry on the work of those journalists killed in the line of duty. it's easy to say, sitting here in the safety of my suburban home, wanting others to put themselves at risk while i take none. yet i can't bear to live in a world where such people no longer exist. all i can offer them are my prayers, and my heartfelt gratitude for the work that they do.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


me, my cowbell & my sore throat got home last night after a good night out. i did enjoy the game, especially because we won, and pretty comfortably. i had to rely on the crowd's reactions to figure out what was happening a lot of the time, and the second half was pretty boring, but there you go. the only negative aspect of the game were the cheerleaders. like the "grid girls" - who got another front page piece in the waikato times for no news reason at all - i hate to see the women relegated to the sidelines in skimpy gear. i just think they're worth way more than that. how about having a women's rugby match before the main match, and at least promote women's sports just a little? now that would be at least a partial celebration of female achievement.

the v8s have been going on all day. they had practice rounds yesterday that drove us all crazy at work with the constant noise. i wouldn't have believed cars could make so much noise if i hadn't had to listen to it.

this event was supposed to have brought bucketloads of money into the city. the coverage in the local paper has been extensive to the point of nauseous. there have been front page stories for weeks, and today's paper has hardly got any other news in the first section. i feel like my subscription has been put towards free advertising for the event that should have been paid for by the organisers.

the city council is not behind in this regard. aside from the millions of ratepayer dollars that have gone into hosting the event, the council latest paper (the city news) is pretty much devoted to the v8's; so my ratepayer money is also being spent on advertising that also should have been paid for by the organisers.

the pay-off was supposed to be in the form of economic benefits to hamilton. city businesses have been repeatedly encouraged to stock up for the crowds of shoppers that were to have hit the city. except they seem to have never arrived. the times reported that the restaurants and bars were pretty empty last night, and business has been slower than usual over the last week.

one shopkeeper i spoke to, who supplies to several restaurants as well as running their own retail outlet, says that businesses have been pretty disappointed. at 5pm tonight, this retailer had received no more than the normal level of business for a saturday. driving through town at 6.30, most restaurants seemed to be pretty empty. maybe things will pick up later in the evening; i certainly hope so.

some people will have made money though. one of them is montana catering, the official caterers for the event. who are apparently contracting out to auckland firms (at least according to a letter-writer to the waikato times), which means part of the economic benefit is going out of hamilton. the interesting thing about this company is that one of it's owners was involved in the election campaign for hamilton mayor bob simcock. and also the campaign of the previous mayor, michael redman, who now happens to be the CEO for hamilton city council and earning thrice the salary.

in the last election, mr simcock raised the full $50,000 he was allowed to spend on his campaign. he spent much more by far than any of the other candidates. he has not revealed who donated to his campaign and maintains he doesn't know. he says the money was handled by his campaign team, who didn't pass the information on to him.

it just doesn't seem right that one of his campaign team gets a lucrative contract from this event. michael redman definitely played a large part in getting this event to hamilton. are his mates profiting while many other businesses in the city miss out?

it would be nice to have some further investigations once it's over. how much money was actually made, and who were the ones that made it? were they the same people who contributed to the simcock campaign? i don't really expect any answers to be forthcoming any time soon. but i hope people keep asking the questions and demanding answers. given that we have to put up with this event for several years, it's only right that we get the full story.

Friday, 18 April 2008

a good night out?

i have finally succumbed to popular culture. tomorrow night, i'm going to watch my first ever live rugby match. this is a big deal, because i have never even sat through a whole rugby match on tv. i've missed every rugby world cup, every bledisloe cup match, the NPC thing and the super 12 (14?). i've watched a little bit of matches where waikato had a chance to win the ranfurly shield, but that's about it.

i find that rugby bores me. it's a game with constant stopping and starting, too much pushing and shoving, and big boys banging straight into each other for no good reason that i can make out. i'd have to agree with brian edwards that the bits where they pass the ball and run are good. but these bits tend to be too few and far between for me to have any interest in the game. give me soccer, netball or tennis any day of the week. these are fast-moving games with obvious skills on display. yes, i know rugby requires skills as well, but these are not so readily apparent when you actually watch the game.

nonetheless, my workmates have persuaded me to go and watch the chiefs play someone tomorrow night. i'm thinking that i'll enjoy the atmosphere and the noise, even if i'm not that interested in the game. and i have a cowbell. that should help. i can at least enjoy annoying everyone else around me.

i will report back on the experience tomorrow night, but don't expect me to be converted into a rugby fan. and don't think this means i will now attend rock concerts, read fashion magazines or start wearing make-up. one can only go so far after all.

sad news today about the closure of the fisher & paykel factory in dunedin. but not wholly unexpected. this is the sort of thing that has been plaguing american and other western countries for some time now. the basic fact is that we can not compete on wages with developing countries, nor do we want to.

fisher & paykel management are blaming the high nz dollar and lack of government support. the nz dollar could be lowered by lowering interest rates, but that affects inflation and would be harmful for the economy at this point. do we want to put the whole country under strain to support one sector?and as for the government not doing enough, i'm not sure what else they want. they're getting a business tax cut from 1 april, along with support through the research & development tax breaks. the government has been busy negotiating trade deals with various countries around the world for some years now, to strengthen our export markets. the only further measure that can be taken is to control the exchange rate, which would be a pretty drastic step indeed, with some potentially nasty side-effects.

the fact is that this company wants to cut costs by paying workers the minimum amount they can get away with. and they can only get away with it by moving somewhere else. there is no government policy that is going to bring the minimum wage down to $2 per hour, cut holidays, cut health & safety regulations and so on.

it's time we demanded more social responsibility from companies, nationally and internationally. the only way pressure can be brought on these companies to pay fair wages in whatever country they operate in is through consumer action. the excuses they are providing are not good enough, and it's pathetic to blame the government when it's simply a matter of maximising shareholders wealth.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


the rain was supposed to be good news. after many months wait, the ground, the plants and the people were desperate for it. the tragedy yesterday has put all of that into perspective.

my younger child went to camp for the first time this year. i hated letting her go, as i always did with the older one. it wasn't because i feared for their safety, but because i missed their presence around the house. even if only for a few days, the emptiness was difficult to bear.

so i can only imagine what the parents of the six children who died in yesterday's tragedy must be feeling like, knowing their children will never come home. there's already media pressure to put the blame somewhere, but i wish they would hold off for a couple of days at least. even the staff at OPC need to go through a grieving process; are our media so callous as to not even give them that time? the full story will definitely come out through the various investigations that have been announced, so there isn't any hurry for pointing the finger.

i'd much rather the media focused on coverage that helped us to grieve with and support the families of those who died. most of them are doing that pretty well actually; it's just the additional stuff around blame that's not needed just now.

on another note (quite hard to think about anything else today), it seems that the credit crisis may not lead to a decrease in borrowing. this is because of the rise of low-interest credit cards, which encourage people to borrow to fund current consumption. borrowing for current consumption (rather than for investment) is the worst form of borrowing.

i appreciate that many are facing financial difficulties with rising food and petrol prices. but in that kind of environment, i would say that it's more important to stick to what you can afford, where possible. the retail sector requires high consumption to ensure growth, but growth fuelled by debt is harmful to the economy. what we need is growth fuelled by increased production and an increase in exports. which means increased investment is required, not increased consumption.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

the gambler

i'm feeling a bit outraged at john key's outrage over a song at the labour party conference. he's complaining that it's a personal attack on him. well, yes. but there are personal attacks and there are personal attacks.

no-one, for example, was commenting on his haircut, or that his teeth might be crooked. there were no comments on how deep his voice was, or what he wears. he hasn't had his sexuality or the validity of his marriage questioned, nor has he had to face taunts for not having children. he hasn't had his face photoshopped onto pornographic images.

these are all things that helen clark regularly has to put up with. i can't believe there is a section of the population concerned about whether she wears a skirt or trousers to various events, as if this somehow has any impact on her ability to run the country. and this kind of scrutiny is put on most female politicians - their fashion sense, their make-up and hairstyle receive a scrutiny that their male counterparts never have to worry about. mr key certainly hasn't had to worry about these kinds of personal attacks at all.

if you look at the lyrics, they pretty much relate to his history & his lack of any firm position on policy. i would have thought that was pretty fair game, particularly when he himself stated on breakfast that he no longer gives his personal opinion as the leader of the national party.

but it's really rich for him to be complaining when the opposition have been making consistent attacks on helen clark over the past couple of years. they've been using words like "arrogant", "control-freak" and the like to try and damage her public reputation, which has been considerable over her 3 terms as prime minister. mr key needs to grow up and accept criticism that he is so willing to give out. in fact, the longer he spends complaining, the more he keeps the song and the lyrics in the public mind, and the more he shows he can't take the heat.

speaking of the labour party conference, helen kelly (head of CTU) gave a cracker speech about change, and a reminder of what it really means for most new zealanders.

this interview on radio nz this morning is a must-listen. it's an interview with author kaz cooke on her book "girls stuff". the points she makes about the sexual experiences of teenage girls are quite sad. it's important that we think about the sorts of messages our girls are getting and how we improve those messages so that they can better protect themselves from pressure to do things they aren't comfortable with.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

it's raining again

hi, i'm back. i had a very hectic but rewarding few days at the labour party congress in wellington. the place was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. anyone who thinks this party is tired must have blinkers on!

one bit of good news: i had a quick chat with hon annette king re women in the police force. she told me that she's requiring the police to report to her on a quarterly basis, so that she can keep an eye on progress. as always, i'm totally impressed with her quiet but extremely efficient way of getting things done.

another quietly competent and pioneering woman has passed away. dame augusta wallace was nz's first female district court judge back in 1976, and i can only imagine how difficult it must have been at the time. certainly not made any easier by a machete attack in court, but it showed the strength of the woman that she simply used this episode to strengthen security systems in our courts.

john key says national will not sell state assets in its first term. that's a strange thing to say. if he's not interested in selling state assets, then why not just say so? why "the first term" thing? to me that says "we still believe in selling the assets, we just don't want it to hamper our chances of getting elected". mr key says that he will seek a mandate to do so in the second term (ie the 2011 election). however, it's much easier to seek a mandate to sell when you've spent 3 years preparing the asset for sale by hampering their ability to achieve effectively.

in other news, the herald is complaining about the blocking of the sale of auckland airport shares by messrs cosgrove and parker. they just don't seem to get the basic point. the airport is a monopoly asset. if a foreign company gets control, they are in a position to abuse the monopoly. in other words, there is nothing to stop them from increasing the departure charge to, say, $50 or $100. what are you going to do? there aren't any other realistic options - it's not like you could go to another, cheaper airport in the same city.

nz ownership is more likely to ensure nz interests are taken into account. having that ownership with the councils also means that there is political pressure that will be brought to bear if the charges go up. if the airport is controlled by foreign owners, they won't be subject to that pressure. if they didn't see a way of taking control of the airport at some point, there would be no point in the investment.

and finally, yes finally, it's raining here in hamilton. i mean really raining hard for hours. grey skies have never looked so good. it reminds me of india, where the monsoon season is considered to be very romantic. i'm falling in love with puddles.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

blame the victim

i too have to express my outrage at the stance taken by garth mcvicar of the sensible sentencing trust as regards the killing of a teen tagger. as far as i know, the SST is an advocate for victims of crime. yet somehow, they are not prepared to advocate for the victim of this crime or his family. rather, they seem to be advocating for the alleged offender. mr mcvicar:

is quoted describing Bruce Emery as "a decent hard-working citizen (who) is facing a murder charge because of his frustration over this (tagging) issue."

the standard suggests that the ethnicity and social status of this victim is the reason for mr mcvicar's stance in this case. it's hard to understand what other motive he could have. given that neither he nor his organisation is willing to advocate for this victim, it is even more galling that he should criticise the children's commissioner for doing so. he seems to think that pihema clifford cameron should have no support whatsoever.

that such a spokesperson is excessively quoted by the media and treated as someone whose opinion has value is an indictment on our society. i suspect mr mcvicar would have been the first to agree with the "one law for all" mantra that was popular in the don brash era of politics. it's about time he applied it to himself, and advocated equally for all victims of crime.

here's a bit of positive news that is likely to go unreported. it seems that kiwis are pretty satisfied with their public service. to quote from the press release:

Other general results included:
* 66 percent agreed that the service met their expectations
* 75 percent felt that staff were competent
* 70 percent thought that staff kept their promises
* 73 percent thought that they were treated fairly
* 63 percent felt that their individual circumstances were taken into account
* 55 percent thought that the service was an example of good value for tax dollars spent

so it seems that our navel-gazing bureaucrats aren't doing too badly after all!

the hand mirror blogs today about the alac ad involving "lisa". it's the one where the young woman gets drunk in a nightclub, and ends up in a dark alley with a sinister looking man. the mirrors (is that ok for a nickname?) are angry the advertisement perpetuates the myth that women are responsible for rape, rather than putting the blame squarely where it belongs: on the rapist.

i totally agree with them on that point, and would encourage people to make complaints - see their blog for details on how. i just have one teeny concern. let me state straight out that as a muslim, i don't drink at all and have a pretty negative view of excessive alcohol consumption. also i blogged about this a few days ago (go to the bottom bit).

i think we do need to get the message out to young women that binge drinking is unhealthy and can be dangerous, given the research on date rape. the problem then becomes: how do we package that message, without blaming the victim of rape? how do we encourage a culture change and highlight the dangers of excessive drinking, while making sure that we don't give the message that it's ok to take advantage of a drunken woman?

it's a difficult one, but one that definitely needs some work. in the meantime, it's worth letting alac know that their current attempt doesn't get it right.

finally, good to hear that banks are tightening their lending criteria, so that it will be more difficult to buy a home without a deposit. while this is bad news for first homebuyers and young families, in the long run they are better off not taking on more debt than they can afford. in other words, it would be much worse if they had been putting money into repayments for several years, then end up with a mortgagee sale where the sale price is less than or equal to what they still owe. it means they'll have lost quite a bit of money, while the bank loses almost none at all.

however, i think it's a bit hard on the self-employed who don't have a regular PAYE slip to support their income. i would hate to think that our entrepreneurs were having to struggle harder than wage-earners to get into a first home. there's definitely room for more policy work in this area.

i probably won't be blogging now until monday. hope you all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


this little piece caught my eye today. the head of the independent police conduct authority has raised the issue of a lack of women in senior police positions:

Why are the women not coming through in greater numbers to senior positions? What is happening to them? Why is the organisation not conducive to retaining their services and why is there such a rate of attrition?"

i think these are valid questions, and ones that should be highlighted more than they have been. particulary in light of the louise nicholas trial and the issues that the bazeley inquiry raised around police culture. the one sure way of changing the culture is by having more women involved in the police force, at all levels.

it's past time for the police to be looking at the barriers for women to raise through the ranks, and take some action to remove those barriers. i don't believe women should be promoted just because they are women. but if they are capable, they should be encouraged to stay and they should be promoted.

i can imagine that it would be difficult for women to stay in an organisation that has a strong male-dominated culture. if the comments made by those answering the 111 call from irena asher are anything to go by, it sounds like there was a high level of misogyny present.

the bazeley report included this concern:

I am concerned that the police impetus for change may not be sustained once the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct is discharged. For this reason I believe that it is very important that an independent agency with the appropriate authority be tasked with monitoring and reporting on the implementation of my recommendations... Independent monitoring of and reporting on police progress in making these changes will thus, in my view, be critical to ensure that the momentum established through this Commission is sustained.

it is therefore important that when the independent voice of the conduct authority speaks out, we pay attention.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

from my cold, dead hands...

really too tired to blog today, after a hectic weekend. so i'll just link to other stuff, like this release on the human rights film festival. looks like there'll be some great films, just wish some of these would come to hamilton!

also, the standard is getting leaders of political parties to answer questions posed by their readers. the first leader to participate is hon jim anderton, and he does a creditable job here. next up is jeannette fitzsimmons.

if you haven't managed to see it yet, here's a link to the prime minister being interviewed on BBC's hard talk, which is worth a look. and finally, kiwiblogblog does a nice little tribute to charleton heston. can't say i was ever a fan of his films, and thought very little of him after seeing "bowling for columbine". but as the tribute reminds us, everyone has some redeeming qualities.

Monday, 7 April 2008


it's so frustrating that all the good programmes/movies are on at the least accessible times. late last night, tv1 screened "banana in a nutshell", a nz made film made by a chinese new zealander. it's mostly about her relationship with her parents, particularly in light of the fact that she has a white boyfriend.

i guess it's what you call a documentary, in the sense that it's a real story, her story. it's beautifully done, and i found that i could relate to it, even though i've never been in that particular situation.

i found so many similarities in my own experiences of being torn between two cultures. of the difficulties in being able develop my own identity, when there were so many forces trying to tell me who to be and how to behave. it took a lot of time and energy to develop the strength to carve out my own place in the world.

in doing so, i've strained some relationships more than i would have liked. even though i feel so much frustration, i can at the same time recognise the huge cultural adjustment that i'm requiring those around me to make. and i realise that if i had to make that same adjustment, it would be almost impossible.

in expecting the people around me to accept me as i am, i realise that i too need to accept they can't always do that. it's finding a way through the friction, to a place where we can at least be comfortable with each other - well, that is the most difficult thing. i guess one of my main tactics is to avoid the tender areas, to never bring them up in conversation. leaving things unsaid seems so much easier than the endless battles that cause so much pain. it means that we can at least be in the same room with each other. it seems to me that it's more important to maintain relationships, be they however much strained, than to walk away.

at least i know i have it much easier with my own children. we understand each other much better, maybe through shared experiences and shared values. i can't imagine that we'll have that same strain between us, but then we haven't really been tested yet.

this is one of the costs of migration, this disconnect between parents and children. well, between parents who are determined to hold on to every last aspect of their culture, who don't want to adapt to their new environment but want to move through it unchanged. it's when they expect their children to do the same that the real problems start.

it's pretty hard to move to a country where the predominant culture is different to your own. it's a struggle to settle down roots, and holding on to their own culture is often the strongest survival mechanism people have. it grounds them, gives them that strong sense of identity and values that helps them to cope in new environment. taking that away from them would make their lives impossible. yet holding on so strongly to that culture can make their children's lives impossible.

there's no easy way out. some families survive, some fall apart. "banana in a nutshell" is a story of one of the survivors. it's such an important nz story, i hope everyone takes the time to see it, if they haven't yet.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

optimism & resiliency

it's been a day full of rich experiences. this morning i went to an optimism and resiliency workshop organised for muslim women. i always wonder when i go to these things whether i'll learn things i didn't already know. i guess the value is in having those things spelled out, putting them in the front of your consciousness and making you actually spend time thinking about them in a way that you normally don't take the time to do.

the biggest lesson for me was a reminder of how much time we spend sending negative messages to ourselves, and how little time we tend to think about our strengths. at least, that's true for me. so i've made up my mind that i need to spend a little more time on self-appreciation, to ensure that i do keep a positive outlook on life. the other valuable aspect of the workshop was the shared experience and the shared stories. there's so much to be learnt from the experiences of others.

from there, i went on to community radio hamilton, who were having an open day especially for ethnic communities. it ended up being a pretty big celebration. their current tag line is "free speech in any language", which is recognition of the fact that ethnic minorities are free to broadcast things here that they might not be able to do in their countries of origin.

i've been a trustee of the trust that runs this station for over a year now. we've got an excellent manager in phil grey & a great range of programmes, hopefully to be expanded as a result of the open day. we've also been lucky to get funding for on-line streaming and podcasts, which you can find here. the internet makes our station accessible to the whole world, and it's an exciting development for us. even more exciting is that 3 of our radio shows have been selected as finalists for the nz radio awards to be held next month. watch this space.

this evening, i attended a farewell for the minister of st stephen's church in hamilton, rev hugh perry and his wife raewyn. they're leaving the city, and it really will be a great loss for the whole community.

i first met raewyn when she and joan morris contacted a friend back in 2003, asking her to organise a meeting between her women from her church and muslim women. they had just had joris de bres (did i say he's a wonderful man? well, i haven't said if often enough!) speaking at their church, encouraging them to be a good host community and reach out to welcome migrant communities. this spurned joan and raewyn to request a meeting with our community.

that request came to me, and i asked if i could include the quakers and jewish women as well. the result was a series of afternoon teas involving about 30 women, where we shared different aspects of our lives and generally got to know each other. what was most special about this though, was the timing. it was soon after the start of the iraq war, and it had been a difficult couple of years for the muslim community, espcially after the 9/11 and bali bombings. that effort of reaching out made by the women of st stephen's was extremely comforting in light of a hostile external environment, and is a precious memory for me.

raewyn and hugh have since been my partners in crime for several ventures, most notably working with me to organise the 4th national interfaith forum last year, and to organise a youth interfaith event. these people are heroes to me, and i will miss them dearly. parting, in this case, is not a sweet sorrow but a very difficult one. the only thing that makes it bearable is knowing that they will be enriching the lives of another community, in a different part of the country.

finally, we've had a tragic event in hamilton this afternoon, with an explosion at an icepak coolstore. seven firefighters have been injured, with 3 in critical condition and 2 with serious injuries. my thoughts go out to them and their families this evening, and i hope they all pull through. the plant is very close to my home, and we saw the black smoke curling up into the sky. there was so much of it. there were some loud bangs just a little while ago, i hope no-one else has been hurt.

Saturday, 5 April 2008


i'm feeling pretty teary at the moment, as i've just come back from watching a film at the waikato migrant resource centre. it was called (i think) "three jewels", and was a really sweet story set in gaza. the mixture of tenderness superimposed on a violent background, of innocence in a harsh world, was really moving. this is a new project started by the WMRC: they've shown 3 films so far. this was the first one i've been to. for any hamiltonians who may be reading, the screenings are at 7pm on the first friday of the month. next month's film will be "the shape of water", which is an amazing documentary about ethnic women changing the world they live in.

i've spent the last two mornings talking to the religious studies class at sacred heart college. this is something i've been doing for the last few years, and i find it a rewarding experience. technically i'm talking about my religion, but the discussions become so much more than that. it's an opportunity to share my views on so many topics, based on the questions the girls are asking.

often there are a lot of questions around marriage and boyfriends; certainly always some about the way muslim women dress; and many about what we eat. some of the questions will be about how it is to be a muslim living in nz. when i answer them, i end up talking a lot about self-image, which i've found nearly all of these year 12 girls relate to. i talk to them about how they relate to each other and the world around them, because that is an integral component of islamic thought. i hope that i make them see the world with new eyes, that i help them to be critical of everything they're told and to re-evaluate things before accepting them as the truth.

every time, it's a different class, yet they all seem to be such lovely young women. they're very inquisitive; some are shy, others outgoing and loud. above all, what i hope to give them is a sense of self-worth; an ability of finding their strength within themselves, rather than relying on the opinion of others. i know i only have 50 minutes, and it's not nearly enough to achieve all that, but it's enough to make a difference.

a couple of items on radio nz made me think more about yesterday's topic of sexual violence. first is this piece on nine-to-noon yesterday about the dangers of sexual attack faced by female tourists in thailand. second is this piece on morning report today, reporting on research showing that "alcohol is the number 1 drug associated with date rape in this country".

there is an inherent unfairness i guess, in the fact that men can go out and get drunk yet not have to face the same consequences as women. they can be more safe when they travel (although i wouldn't recommend travelling alone through many parts of the world, even for men). in recent years, there has been a rise in the level of drinking for young women, and it's an area where it seems to me that equality is a wasted effort.

in the current environment, where there are so very few successful prosecutions for crimes of sexual violence, the use of alochol makes it almost impossible to prove that a women didn't give consent. even in a case where there was medical evidence of violence, one of our sports stars (sorry, can't and don't want to remember his name) was acquitted.

i think it's important to work hard to change legal processes to ensure more successful prosecutions. we do need to advocate for women's safety at times in all places. in the meantime, especially when it comes to heavy drinking, i would say it's more important to be safe than it is to be equal.

Friday, 4 April 2008

blog against sexual violence

having criticised various media in previous blogs, it is now time to give credit where credit is due. i've been really impressed with some of the coverage re the asian immigration issue. here are some of my favourites: john campbell's interview last night, which can be found here (although it is a little harsh); this morning report piece and this one as well; this article from stuff; and granny herald manages a well-balanced piece here.

but the top award must go to keith ng on the panel today, who wants us to love the sinner but not the sin [update: keith has since blogged about it here]. have to say i was a little surprised at the approach (hugging mr brown? eww, i'll leave that to you keith), but have decided that it's actually much healthier than the "white supremacist" line taken by keith locke. i think it's a reflection of my psyche having had enough of hatred.

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo

on another note, today is the day to blog against sexual violence, an effort co-ordinated by abyss. i thought i would share an experience i've had over the last month.

a young girl (under 10) has been subject to harassment by a teenager she knows. he has been talking explicitly to her, and has done a couple of things that make her feel very uncomfortable. the poor thing was too afraid to tell her mother so she told her closest friend, of the same age. the friend managed to persuade her to tell another person, only a little older than the other 2.

the third child came to me, distressed from having heard what had happened and absolutely confused as to what she should do about it. and also feeling very guilty, because she had promised the other two that she wouldn't tell.

and herein lies the greatest difficulty with sexual abuse. given that it's so often perpetrated by people well-known to the victim, if the victim speaks out, she knows that she is going to destroy relationships and split families apart. the victim in this case is very well aware of the consequences of making her situation known, of the anger it will cause and the suffering that will be visited on the perpetrator. she doesn't hate him enough to want that ugliness. the other two girls are in the same position. it's an awful situation for all three of them.

i wonder often at how to break the silence, when the effects of telling can be as traumatic as the original event. the fear, shame and confusion feed the silence, meaning that neither victim nor perpetrator get the help they need. how do we create an environment where it is truly safe to tell?

as a mother of daughters, i know with absolute certainty that i can never protect them from abuse. i just can't be with them for 24 hours of every day. there is no way that they can be kept completely safe. the only way i deal with that reality is by trying to make them aware, to ensure that they know how to protect themselves as best they can, and to work on building a strong relationship with them so that they aren't too scared to tell me.

what else can i do?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

brown migrant(s)

i try hard to find redeeming qualities in peter brown, but today i'm really struggling. the nz first MP is in the news, bagging asian immigrants. nothing new there, merely stock in trade for nz first. i concede that he's having to do the dirty work because the rt hon winston peters is too busy being the foreign affairs ministers, so not able to trot out the usual lines in that role.

in the meantime, we have mr brown, who i met in person last year, when making my oral submission on the immigration bill. if you've missed exactly what his views are, feel free to listen to this checkpoint interview on radio nz (have to say that mary wilson does sound a little bemused). or if you prefer video, try this from tvnz.

mr brown's main concern appears to be around the projections of asian immigration, with the number of asians predicted to double in 20 years. this is a bad thing, because these new asians won't integrate, don't you know, and they'll bring all their nasty asian values and practices to this country.

mr brown is himself an immigrant. he's the good sort of course - the hard working sort, who has given a lot to this country and he says he has never taken a cent from the taxpayer. so, um, who exactly is paying your salary right now mr brown? and has been doing so for the last many years? yes, that's right, the taxpayer.

which includes me, mr brown, a "non-integrating" asian immigrant. you are getting from the taxpayer a salary that would be about ten times the benefit. and as far as i'm concerned, you're not even contributing as much as a beneficiary. at the very least, i expect you to show some gratitude to me and to all the other hard-working asian immigrants who are footing the bill for your salary.

one of the major concerns mr brown has with asian immigrants is that, with double the numbers, they'll set up little enclaves within the country. but what's to stop immigrants from say greece, france, germany, holland or any other non-english speaking european country from doing the same. it is a natural human tendency, after all, to seek out people who are similar to you, who share a language, food, dress, cultural traditions and a collective history. europeans are not exempt from this tendency, but mr brown expresses no concerns about european migrants.

and don't tell me their culture is the same or very similar to nz culture. each country in europe is distinctly different from its neighbour, how could they be said to be similar to nz?

further, i'm concerned at mr brown's lack of ability to integrate into nz society. we kiwi's are a friendly lot who give everyone a fair go. we are unique in the way we've dealt with historic grievances of tangata whenua, eg by setting up the waitangi tribunal and by funding maori tv and iwi radio. we pride ourselves on being an inclusive society, and while we have a long way to go in that regard, we certainly are doing better than many other countries around the world. mr brown has failed to take on this aspect of kiwi culture, so i would say he has failed to integrate. what policies is he going to put in place to ensure no-one like him gets through our borders ever again?

in any case, successful integration is a two-way process. it requires both the host and the migrant to be open to each other. it means inviting migrants into your home, sharing with them, and vice versa. it means not discriminating against them when it comes to employment, housing, education and in fact every other aspect of life. it means not denigrating them publicly as a class of people. if you provide a hostile environment for migrants, which mr brown seems very keen to do, you make it almost impossible for them to integrate successfully. to then blame migrants for their lack of integration is more than dishonest, it's cruel.

when nz first started their tirade against asian immigration back in 1996, it had a massive impact on asians living in this country. i heard many first hand accounts of the escalated verbal abuse that resulted, of the open discrimination in terms of jobs. twelve years on, i hope that nz has matured to an extent that this kind of tirade from mr brown will no longer be tolerated. the proof will be in the poll results leading up to the election. if nz first results don't rise as a result of their usual rhetoric, then we'll know that something wonderful is happening in this country.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

personal attack

following on from yesterday's post, i've been really disturbed to hear about the personal attacks on kate sutton, labour party candidate for epsom. here is another reason why women may step back from leadership positions.

i'm not going to link to the blog that has attacked her, nor any others that mention what was said, even if to condemn it. the reason for the latter is that the comments sections are also pretty nasty. i haven't read the offending material myself, and hope i never have to come across it.

let's just say it was an attack that was composed largely of lies, and was below the belt. i know this attempt to sully her character must be personally distressing to kate, following attacks on her body size.

the unfairness and nastiness of these right wing bloggers and commentators are a significant deterrant for women thinking of entering politics. attacks like the one on kathy sierra or the practice of photoshopping women's heads onto porn (as has been done to the prime minister) reduce women's space on the internet. similarly, personal attacks of this nature on women candidates reduce the space for women to be involved in politics. because the results is for women to withdraw from the public sphere.

these attacks, that are inherently sexual in nature, seem to be reserved largely for women. unless we, as a society, are going to do something about the way women are attacked, we will be one where women retreat back into their homes, back to being chained to the kitchen sink. or at the least, they will stay well below the glass ceiling.

in any case, i know kate to be a person of strength who is well supported. she certainly won't be giving up because of something like this. let's hope the voters of epsom will give her the support she deserves.

on a more positive note, a great range of policies come into place today. lyndon hood captures them pretty well here. what's great is the mix of measure, improving the situation of those at the bottom through raising the minimum wage, making cpi adjustments to benefits and student allowances, and abolishing youth rates; also incentives to business through the business tax cuts and incentives for research & development; and finally the incentives to saving through the employer contribution to kiwisaver.

it's debate about these kinds of policies that should the focus of our attention during this year's campaign.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

it's not a dirty word

i gave a speech last night to the hamilton theosophical society. this is an organisation that's been around for almost 100 years in hamilton, and they convene weekly to discuss matters of religion and philosophy. when they asked me what topic i'd like to cover, i decided this was an opportunity for me to claim back a word that is precious to muslims, but has become pretty much a dirty word in the west. that word is jihad.

i don't propose to go into a lengthy discussion of that topic here. it's one that is difficult to cover, given the amount of discussion and debate about it within the muslim world, over 1400 centuries.

what i found most difficult, when doing the research, was the amount of nastiness that's out there on the web. of course, i know some of the sites to avoid if i want to save myself some grief, but others are hidden in urls that are seemingly innocuous. jumping into the site is like jumping into a pool of hatred.

there were two groups, both extremist in nature, which i found difficult to deal with. the first were non-muslim groups that would take quranic verses out of context and put the worst possible interpretation on to them. the other were muslims who were doing exactly the same thing. both were frightening to read, and depressing too.

it took a while, but i did manage to find scholars who'd take the middle path, as the quran requires us to do. of all the various things i read, this one was one of the best, by tariq ramadan. it's heavy going, and the formatting is not good, but the ideas were very close to my own understanding of jihad. it's a struggle i make every day, and it's a concept that's precious to me, as it is to muslims around the world.

the best jihad for me is the opportunity to speak to groups like the theosophical society. it's the ability to engage with people, even if only 15 or 20 at a time. the ability to express my beliefs on my own terms, and to let them see that i'm not a threat, but just one of them. this is the kind of jihad that will overcome the extremists, and will help each of us to reclaim what is most precious: harmony and balance.

it would be remiss of me not to mention the nz census of women's participation, released today by dr judy mcgregor of the human rights commission. it reminds us of what we already know - that there are far too few women in leadership positions in the private sector, and in some cases, the situation is getting worse, not better.

what the report doesn't provide are the reasons why women aren't making it to the top levels. we could guess it's because women aren't in the right networks, they have to take breaks from their careers due to child-bearing, and that on the whole, they are still taking more of the responsibility for child-rearing.

another factor i'd throw in would be the lack of appreciation of our women achievers. there is still the notion that for women to be out there achieving is somehow an attack on "family values"; that such women can not be putting in the required level of effort at home; and that there failure to do so is the cause of the breakdown of society. under such a burden, it's a wonder that women achieve at all.

and i'd go back to my bimbo post - it's also difficult to achieve in a society where women get most attention for reasons other than academic, professional or sporting achievements. when you can get instant fame and attention without all the hard slog involved in struggling to the top of the corporate ladder, what's the incentive to take on that long haul?

there's a cultural shift that's required, but fewer poeple seem to want to take on the task of pushing for it, and many who no longer see the effort as important. there's a sense that the battle is already won, when the figures clearly prove otherwise. here's another jihad, one that's really important for our country. i hope you'll take it on.