SHAFAQNA – The verbal abuse of women in headscarves is on the rise in Melbourne, say Muslim women, with some being shoved and spat on while walking.
Noble Park mother Reem Hakem said her 14-year-old daughter was recently yelled at by a man while walking home from school with her younger brother.
She will be running a cross-cultural workshop in Craigieburn on Wednesday, organised by the Uniting Church, to allow Muslim women to share their concerns and offer solutions to tackle public violence with Victoria Police, lawyers and community groups.
While community leaders say religious hatred should never be tolerated, some say the abuse of those who choose to don a hijab was becoming so common the incidents were often “brushed off” by the victims.
Mrs Hakem’s daughter was wearing her school uniform when an older man driving past reportedly wound down his car window, gave her the finger and told her to “f— off”.
Ms Hakem said it was her son who first told her about the incident. When she asked her daughter about it the teenager said she had not mentioned it straight away because she “thought it was normal” to be singled out because of her headscarf.
“That response really broke my heart,” she said. “She’s just walking home from school and she’s a child.”
The Islamophobia Register, which collects reports of violence and harassment against Australian Muslims, is aware of a number of incidents where women have been abused in front of their children.
These cases of abuse reportedly spike during and after events that reflect negatively on the Islamic community, such as the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege and recent debate about banning the burqa.
Community advocate and lawyer Lydia Shelly accused Prime Minister Tony Abbott of encouraging attacks with “inflammatory statements” made during Monday’s national security statement suggesting Muslim leaders may not “mean it” when they speak out against extremism.
“If the rhetoric continues [from] the Prime Minister and people in positions of power it’s going to be very difficult and perhaps unsafe for … Muslim women to fully participate in Australian public life,” she warned.
Meadow Heights kindergarten educator Rehab Ayoubi believes violence against Muslim women can only be addressed through “knowledge”.
“If people really know what Islam is about then they would know there is no link between Islam and whatever is being portrayed in the media,” she said.
“Do your part and get to know your Muslims. Give it a go.”
Melanie Schleiger from Victoria Legal Aid said often people who had been abused in the streets did not realise that a criminal offence had been committed “and they have a right to make a complaint to the police and the right to make a civil claim if they want to”.
She encouraged people to report incidents of religious and racial abuse and advised victims to make sure they took down witnesses details.
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