Saturday, 27 August 2011

eid mubarak

ramadan has come to an end, and it must have been the busiest ramadan i've had. just an alignment of events all happening at the same time, which i couldn't seem to avoid. even tonight, i've been running around collecting signatures for a WEL energy trust funding application which i have to drop in some time tomorrow.

but other than that, i'll be putting everything aside and celebrating eid. so eid mubarak to all my friends and family. i hope the month of ramadan has been a successful one for my muslim friends, and a time of reflection and peace. even though eid is a celebration, there is a certain sadness that comes with ramadan being over.

non-muslims might find that strange, since having no food or drink during the day seems so strenuous. but there is really so much more to ramadan - the social aspects, the spiritual aspects. i've been trying to moderate my behaviour (though obviously had a big fail during the pak'save incident), and focus on swallowing my anger and doing the right thing. for some strange reason, it has actually been an incredibly provoking month. but things seem to be settling down, with some positive outcomes so i can't complain.

but yes, i'll miss the prayers at the mosque at night, the regular meeting of friends over good food, the absence of tv and the increased reflection. i think doing the poverty workshop really helped with my reflection, as did this post by maia at the hand mirror. of course one of the points of ramadan is to carry on with the good habits you develop over the month, and incorporate them into your daily life. but somehow that doesn't happen - i think there's just a special blessing over this month that makes it easier to be the person you want to be.

the new day starts at sunset for muslims, so eid has started tonight. we will have prayers tomorrow morning 8am, and then will spend the day visiting friends and being visited by them. usually the celebration lasts over a few days, since one day is never enough to get around to everyone. and because we have such a multi-cultural community, there is a real variety of food to try. as well as that, we all have new clothes. the celebration, in full, is called eid-ul-fitr, and the "fitr" part of it is where we give a sum of money to be distributed to those in need, so that everyone can have new things.

so while many of you are busy at paid or unpaid work tomorrow, i hope you won't mind us celebrating after a month of self-deprivation. and for those who know me, feel free to drop by.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

action plan for human rights

so this is the speech i gave (or at least one of them) at the diversity forum on sunday. i don't think it will have the same impact in writing, without the inflections and emotions of the spoken word, but i wanted to have a record of it. i hadn't made any notes, so this is the best recollection of what i said.

bismillahir rahmanir rahim. naumai haere mai. i tene po. tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou ka toa.

i've been asked to give a community perspective on human rights. i'm going to start by talking to you about my day yesterday. it was a pretty mixed day. it stared well, with a special welcome for the muslim community at turangawaewae marae, as part of the coronation celebrations. it was a very meaningful and humbling experience.

in the afternoon, i went to do my grocery shopping at the mill st pak'n'save, which those of you from hamilton will know well. i was in the grocery section, and having finished getting some dates, pulled out to carry on. i was silly enough not to look behind me and almost bumped into the trolley of another shopper. he rolled his, gave a big sigh, and as he carried on, said "i hope you don't drive like that". anyone who knows me will know that i don't just let that kind of thing pass. so i said "i hope you'are rude like that everywhere you go" and carried on my way. he said something in return which i didn't hear except for the words "come to this country".

for my many sins, God has seen fit to punish me by giving me two daughters who are infinitely more wise and full of common sense than i am. the one who was with me at the time said to me when the incident was over (and it wasn't quite over yet), that i should have not responded to him at all. by responding to him, i was giving him the reaction he was looking for. moreover, i was fasting and i broke my fast by responding in the way i did.

she is absolutely right of course. but i can't not respond, i can't just let it go. there's something inside me that cannot just let a comment like that pass. so i said to him, in a loud voice that echoed through the fruit & vege section "this is MY country, you f***ing a**hole".

now some of you may find that language offensive. let me assure you that i find it much less offensive than the notion that i come "to" this country rather than coming "from" this country. i find it less offensive than someone telling me that i don't belong here, or that i am less of a nz'er than they are. i suspect my daughter hasn't had the experiences that i have because the country she was born into is much more diverse, and she is after all much younger than me. but i can say that having to put up with this kind of thing constantly has worn down my patience to the extent that i just can't let it go.

very recently i saw an ad on tv for a beer company - many of you may have seen it. it starts with a fat white guy lying on a couch watching tv. next to him is somekind of barrel type thing filled with beer and ice, which he can move with a remote control. he uses this control to send the barrel through the house, where it finally reaches a woman in the kitchen, on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor. the tag line is something along the lines of "when she can't get to the fridge, bring the fridge to her", with the man yelling out at her to get him a beer.

i couldn't sleep the night after watching this ad. i'm a trustee of the hamilton ethnic women's centre (shama), where we provide services for women who suffer from domestic violence. it isn't any kind of joke, there is nothing funny about what these women suffer. this advertisement, as with so many that are run by alcohol companies, are hugely negative in the messages they give about women - either as sex objects, as stupid or as this one is.

the complaints process is such that any person who complains has there name in the public arena, but in order for the advertising standards authority to make a ruling, they have to agree to make no statements in the media. the party who has made the ads has no such restrictions and is free to denigrate the complainant publicly, telling the world that such a person is uptight, can't take a joke, or any other narrative they wish to run. advertising companies are often actively seeking a complaint because they know the penalties are minimal and the free publicity is huge.

we were promised, when alcohol advertising was allowed, that there would be tight control over the ads. i see no evidence of any type of control whatsoever. these ads are not just demeaning women, they are hugely insulting to men, implying that men are unevolved neanderthals who can't see women as anything but sexual objects.

then we have the jock psychiatrist who has access to prime time television, where he tells us that adolescence is a mental illness, a disease. and we allow this to happen, we allow our young people to be treated with such disrespect. in a country that has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world, how must it feel for our young people to hear themselves denigrated and laughted at in this way? how can they possibly feel connected to a society that shows clearly that it cares little about them.

i feel hugely angry at this narrative, on behalf of my own teenage daughters who are extremely sensible. as are all their friends that i've had the opportunity to meet. this country is full of lovely young people, but how often do they get to hear that about themselves? and this stuff doesn't just happen in a vacuum. it is precisely because we allow such disrespect of our young people that we can even consider the notion of paying them less even when they are doing exactly the same work as an adult. it is the same reason that we can have discussions about benefit cards for some of the most vulnerable young people in this country - these are the youth who are unable to live with their families because of abuse or other disfunction.

earlier this year, a white norwegian man committed an appalling crime, which i'm sure you are all familiar with. if you listen to the narratives about this young man - that he was "crazy", a "madman", completely insane - you see how hugely damaging this is to people who live with mental illness. these are another group that face significant marginalisation in our society, and to link that crime to mental illness without any shred of evidence is hugely damaging to their attempts to shake off the stigma attached to mental illness. the fact is that those with mental illnesses are no more likely to commit acts of violence that any other group in society.

this is the reality for so many people who have to live daily with discrimination and marginalisation. the only way to improve their situation is by a co-ordinated effort across governement. i'm an accountant so have a management background, and one of the first things we learnt in our courses was that if you don't know where you're going then any road will take you there. planning is essential to change the human rights culture in this country, and it requires commitment from government, from ministers, senior public servants and managers. a human rights approach has to be, as rosslyn says, a feature of every government department because each of them has an important role to play. we need an action plan for human rights and we need a commitment to carry it through.

change isn't going to come about via a complaints process, because complaining takes a lot of time and energy. with the number of incidents that i have to come across, i just don't have that energy, or the will to keep making complaints. it's too difficult. if significant change is going to happen, it has to come from the top - i don't think a bottom-down approach can be as effective.

i have just one last experience to share. in the last week, for an organisation i'm involved with, i happened to disagree on a particular matter with someone else. i laid out my concerns, and the response that i received was that i was too controlling and this was as a result of my involvement with the labour party. this isn't the first time that kind of comment was made. most of you will know that political affiliation is one of the grounds laid out in the human rights act. however, i'm unable to take forward a complaint to the human rights commission - i know because i've discussed it with them. i'm now in a position of having to choose to withdraw from the organisation or having the other person withdraw.

nz doesn't have a great record when it comes to human rights. we need action and we need a plan if this is to change.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

speaking up

just a couple of links tonight. this via facebook:

and i certainly would never have thought i'd admire anything russell brand had to say. but it turns out that i do - here he is on the london riots:

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posses. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.

(via comments here). i'd very much recommend reading the whole thing.

also via facebook, i liked this:

Now I realize it’s going to be hard to know that every person that ever contacts me isn’t a bully, I understand that…but in this specific instance it was right in front of my face. I saw it with my own wasn’t hear say, it was right there..with their smiling face right beside such an ugly statement. I couldn’t forget about it, I mean how I could spend 2 hours with someone during our session trying to take beautiful photos of them knowing they could do such UGLY things. Realistically, I know by canceling their shoots it’s not going to make them “nicer people” but I refuse to let people like that represent my business.

Monday, 22 August 2011

the week that was

well i certainly hadn't meant to leave the blog unattended for so long, but things have just been too incredibly hectic. aside from the fasting, i've been having something on almost every night & the weekends have been jam-packed as well. when i get chunks of time that are free, i totally need them for rest and recuperation.

this past week went like this:
- had people for dinner on monday night. since i'm not a great cook, i need to prepare in advance, and i had less than two hours from the time i left work til the time that the first part of the meal is ready. so i use as many shortcuts as i can (pre-cut salad, pre-grated cheese, pizza bases from the supermarket etc). and of course i have my darling mum to help out with cooking a couple of things, which takes some of the pressure off, and a darling daughter to do all the cleaning and vacuuming.

- tuesday night i had a 3 hour meeting straight after work. it was a pretty stressful one, and i broke my fast while driving to dinner, having made sure i had some dates in the car (it's traditional for dates to be the first thing we eat after sunset). luckily we were invited for dinner, so i didn't have to cook. after dinner, i had another meeting for the interfaith council, so was pretty exhausted when i got home.

- wednesday morning before work, i had a dummy run of our diversity forum workshop, with the good people from anglican action. it went really well, and i think the people there engaged so well with the issues. but then these are people who are working with those who have some significant struggles on a daily basis and so have a very good understanding of the issues. the stories that a couple of them shared were pretty amazing. after work i had to rush around shopping for another dinner on friday & homework stuff for my daughter. we go to the mosque for prayers every night in ramadan, and after i got back around 9pm, i spent about an hour and half in the kitchen doing some preparatory work.

- thursday was relatively quieter - didn't have to cook as we were invited for dinner, but still put in another hour and a half in the kitchen after prayers to organise for friday.

- saturday morning i had to be at the mosque at 8am, to be part of the muslim group driving to turangawaewae marae, to be officially welcomed on to the marae as part of the coronation celebrations. it was a lovely event, but so freezing cold! i was pretty well dressed with two layers of thermals, two pairs of socks, two gloves & still managed to have numb toes. the powhiri was lovely, and then we got to sit and watch the next group be welcomed. these were members of royal families from the pacific, and they got the full-on formal welcome, which was great to watch. i have to mention that the muslim communities were given a special welcome because it was difficult for us to be part of the ethnic communities welcome on friday - friday being our congregational day & also because we were fasting, the serving of food wouldn't have been appropriate. so they gave us another more suitable time, agreed to adjust protocol for our specific requirements (especially around the hongi), and were very welcoming. it was such a lovely example of hospitality and flexibility; really a model for all. didn't have to cook on saturday night as we were invited for dinner.

- sunday was the diversity forum, and our poverty workshop. it was at the new claudlands conference centre, which was pretty nice. we were a bit worried, because when we started our session, there were only about 6 people in the room. but they kept coming in, and about 20 minutes into it, there were around 50 people in attendance. i think it went quite well, though i can see where we could have improved things a little. still, we had a lot of positive feedback. i had to rush off before the end of our session, to speak briefly at the interfaith council's session about the interfaith forum in february next year. in the next session, i also had to speak briefly following rosslyn noonan's talk on the human rights action plan. my job was to give a community perspective on human rights in nz today, and i might post what i said in the next day or two, if i can find the energy. didn't have to cook again, because we were invited (any day i don't have to cook is a pretty good day!)

- today i was at the diversity forum again after work. i attended the media session around the paul henry/hone harawira comments, covered in this article. i stayed on for the diversity awards, which were lovely. i can't remember the names of all the 12 organisations recognised, and i'm sure they'll be on the HRC website soon, but it was lovely to see the work of philip yeung at the hamilton city council recognised, and the brilliant to see tainui holdings ltd get the special award. it'll be interesting to see how that goes down with the CBD, who are suffering from the loss of business that is now going tainui's way.

and here it is, monday night. i've got a pretty stressful board meeting after work tomorrow. by the end of august, i have to get a GST return done for a community organisation, review accounts and have a meeting with one of my NGO financial people so that the accounts are ready for audit, get a funding application in to WEL energy trust, write an article for a journal, and get a tricky tax return done for another organisation. at the same time, we are into the last 10 days of ramadan, which are supposed to be spent in extra prayer and acts of worship. i'm just hoping that this list of stuff i have to get done will count as acts of worship - they are in a sense, because in my mind, i do it for the greater good and for no pay. just hoping to make a difference in my little corner of the world.Link

Friday, 12 August 2011

poverty, inequality and cultural privilege

the human rights commission diversity forum is an annual event that has been going on for several years. you can get a background information here. this year, for the first time, it's going to be held in hamilton, at the claudlands event centre on 21 - 22 august. it's an excellent opportunity for the people of the waikato to get involved in discussions around various aspects of diversity.

the main part of the forum starts from sunday afternoon, and the only problem is that there are so many wonderful sessions happening at the same time. at 1.30pm on sunday, there are two sessions run by organisations i'm actively involved with - the session on raising awareness of religious diversity hosted by the waikato interfaith council, and the session on domestic violence run by shama (hamilton ethnic women's centre).

however, i won't be at either of those two sessions, because i've been working with poverty action waikato on a session that deals with the intersection between race and poverty. it's called living in nz in your culture: poverty, inequality and cultural privilege. i was really keen to have a session on poverty as soon as i attended a meeting in april regarding the forum, where the HRC was seeking expressions of interest from organisations wanting to host sessions. i approached poverty action waikato because of the excellent programme they'd put on for international women's day - i've put up posts about them here and here.

the purpose of the session on sunday 21 august is to gather stories from people who live with or have ever lived with poverty, or who work with those living in poverty. the key focus is on the way racial or cultural discriminations feeds into poverty and vice versa. the goal is to compile these stories into a document, which the human rights commission have assured us they will use to push for policy change and which we also hope to use to push for social change.

of course, we understood immediately the challenge. it isn't easy to share stories at a time of vulnerability, and particularly in a culture that is so judgemental. it's hard to share personal stories at the best of times, and to share stories around things which society deems a failure is that much harder still. so we've had a think about how we can create a safe space for people to share.

one thing we have done is provide a variety of mediums. if people feel comfortable with small group discussions, we have those. if people want to leave short and simple messages on post-it notes, we'll have those. if people would prefer to share through a longer written piece, we'll have the materials available. and for those who don't feel comfortable with writing, we'll have a dictaphone and a booth, so that can provide a short recording. in all cases, we will preserve anonimity.

in all the demonstrations, rioting and public agitation across the middle east, europe and now england, there is the common thread of people feeling disaffected and angry at economic inequality and the daily struggles of survival. there is the common thread of voices needing to be heard. in a nz context, this is one small way for people to have a voice. maybe it won't make a difference, but hopefully it will. there are enough people around this particular project who care and who want to take the message further - as far as we possibly can.

so. i'm asking those of you who read this to promote this event and to encourage people to attend. please use your organisational and social networks to pass on the message.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

charity accounting

yay, drug-free from today and feeling a lot better! however, one of the joys (or maybe not) of being an accountant is that every charitable organisation you happen to come into contact with will either ask you to be the treasurer or ask you to audit their accounts.

the audit question is easy: i can't do them. the nz institute of chartered accountants is getting pretty tough on audits, and if you don't them as part of your daily work (i don't any more) and you don't hold some pretty hefty public liability insurance, then you can't do them. not even for free. if they catch you doing it, you don't get to be a chartered accountant any more. which is a pity, because i actually was a pretty good auditor & enjoyed doing it - but only if i could have junior staff member to do all the ticking and boring bits. i know that sounds pretty mean, but... well it is just mean. i don't do auditing now so i don't have to feel guilty about it.

but the being treasurer or doing accounts is more difficult to wriggle out of. mostly because i know how much charitable organisations struggle to find qualified accoutants who'll do their work for free. and i know how much they struggle for funding, so can't afford to pay for one. but there is only so much i can cope with, so i try to get out of it if i can. this week i couldn't so i've spent the evening sorting out accounting stuff rather than any of the other things i need to be doing. still, i can feel happy about supporting a very useful organisation.

the other thing with being an accountant is that we often spend a lot of time being counsellors. it's because we know almost everything about our clients' lives - to quite a level of detail. however, we are removed from their lives, so when they come to see us, they end up talking about all sorts of personal problems and seeking advice on matters that are clearly not financial.

mostly accountants take this in their stride, but i really wish they taught us about this stuff. i think a compulsory psychology paper, with a dose of "keeping yourself & your client safe" would have been quite helpful. people who work in counselling get peer review and support & all sorts of stuff to destress. i remember quite a while ago, some clients had lost a son the year before they came to see me, and ended up spending most of the time talking about the grief and how difficult they were finding it to cope with the loss. i really wished i'd had better tools and training to help them, although maybe it was enough for them to just be able to express what they were feeling.

instances like that remind me what a huge position of trust i hold when i'm dealing with someone's tax & financial affairs.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

been a bit sick

well, i sort of crashed last week. possibly because i was doing too much but also because i must have eaten something that really disagreed with me. i won't bore you with the details because they are incredibly unromantic, but let's just say that my body is currently a cocktail of chemicals ingested to fight against the various ways it has decided to turn against me. i think i'm finally winning on that front, and hope to be drug-free (by which i mean medicinal drugs, of course) by tomorrow.

the night after i last posted here, i rushed off to auckland after work, to attend the 235th independence day celebration hosted by the american ambassador. yes, almost a month late, but nonetheless, i thought it important to attend. although, as with many other independence days (particularly the australian one), the very nature of it is a bit of an insult to indigenous populations, because that independence didn't lead to particularly good things for them. in that sense, nz's celebration of a treaty between two peoples is a much more inclusive affair, except of course, that said treaty didn't really protect the indigenous party from the sorts of things that were happening in other countries.

despite this inner contradiction (and many more) i attended, because i still believe it's important to maintain good relationships & to continue dialogue. the whole affair had a hawaian theme, which tied into the ambassador's speech which was heavy on the notion that america was a country of the pacific just as nz is, and therefore we have much in common etc etc.

a couple of highlights: secretary of state hilary clinton's message included words to the effect that values around freedom and democracy were not just american values but universal values (yay! it's actually great to have that acknowledged). and she tied this point in with the arab spring and the struggles for democracy in that part of the world.

the second highlight was the ambassador's toast which was apparently a huge breach of protocal and went something like this: "to the poeple of nz, to their elected representatives, and finally to their queen, in that order". i loved it, as did almost everyone there - which just shows that it surely must be time to let go of the monarchy. this is surely a sign of a democrat appointment, because having attended this event for several years, i can certainly say that a previous ambassador was very careful to acknowledge the queen first and foremost.

it was either this event or the dinner afterwards where i ate something that caused a bit of havoc & therefore relative inaction for much of the week. i have, however, continued with meetings for various organisations as best i could manage. the key one being for the diversity forum, where i am working with poverty action waikato to run a session on the intersection of poverty and ethnicity. more about this soon.

Monday, 1 August 2011

it's ramadan

ramadan has started and today was my first day of fasting. it didn't go too badly, and of course having the short days of winter makes it much easier.

i haven't any motivation this year to match last year's feat of daily posts, possibly because i'm coming into the month with less energy and a whole mountain of work before me. i was hoping for a quiet month, but it's not working out that way. the next two weeks are full of meetings and events that i can't avoid, and then there's the diversity forum happening on 21 august.

i'm looking forward to the forum, there are a lot of good sessions organised. along with a preceding visit to turangawaewae marae, by invitation of the maori king. it's a special invitation for ethnic minority communities to comemorate the coronation. i think it's an important move, as i think it's very important for maori and other non-pacific ethnic communities to build strong links (i think the links are already there for pacific communities, given they have a history of being in nz in much greater numbers for some years). there are many issues that these communities have in common, and it can only help to be talking through some of those.

also bothering me today is the casual contempt that people show for others. i guess it's because of a few e-discussions i've been having, but not only that. i watch people being so quick to judge (or misjudge) others, without giving them the benefit of the doubt and attaching the most suspicious motives without any apparent evidence.

what is it about human beings that we are so quick to judge others? i can't say i'm immune from this disease - i've caught myself doing it many times, and every time i think i've learnt a lesson and will do better next time. but it's something that is so ingrained that often you don't even realise until you've done it.

one of my favourite things is a scholar who said that if you see someone doing something you think is wrong, try to make 70 excuses for their behaviour. and after trying 70 times, if you haven't come up with a reason, the think to yourself that must be yet some other reason for their behaviour that hasn't occurred to you. wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all live in a state of perpetual goodwill towards the people around us.

yes, i know, dreams are free. but it's ramadan, which means a time for me to reflect on the best of behaviour and to think about ways i can improve myself. it's a time to think of ideals and try to live up to them. knowing that i'm almost certain to fail, but that it's the effort and the self-awareness that are most important. ramadan mubarak to everyone.
and since i'm not going to commit to daily posts, i'll put links through to what i wrote last ramadan which was pretty universal. on the first day, i talked about education.