“I’M NOT GOING TO PRETEND THAT IT’S EASY”

An interview with Dr Anne Aly.

By Grace Jennings-Edquist & Mia Abrahams

Dr Anne Aly is used to being first. The Federal Member for Cowan is, of course, the first Muslim woman to become a Member of Parliament. As an expert in counter-terrorism, extremism, and radicalisation, the Egypt-born Labor pollie was the first Australian to be invited to Obama’s White House conference on the subject in 2015. (She was also the first MP to wear a halal snack pack badge in Parliament, no doubt incensing Pauline Hanson.)  So just days after Labor’s landslide win in the WA state elections  in which One Nation failed spectacularly  it only made sense to feature Dr Aly as our “first” ever THD interview.

How can Australian women build a stronger intersectional feminist movement?

I think the first thing to do is to recognise what we don’t know — recognise where the feminist movement has, in many ways, failed women of color and minority women, and start looking at where those failures came from and why those failures happened. We need to go back and redress the fact that some forms of feminism and some parts of feminism actually alienated women of color in the past…

Even just talking about intersectionality is a really good place to start. Even if you talk from intersectionality, that’s an inclusive thing in itself: You can’t talk about it without having a conversation with the people it affects, and that way we start to bring more women of color and minorities into the conversation.

How has your conception of feminism changed over the length of your career?

When I was a young girl I started reading Germaine Greer, and I read a book called My Mother/ My Self by by Nancy Friday. I became fascinated with feminism and found it empowering. But as I grew into adulthood  … coming from my background and being a minority woman and a woman of color, I actually moved away from feminism because I felt kind of disillusioned or disappointed by the forms of empowerment that were presented to me as a young teenager.  I felt women like me were still having to fight for everything that [white women] already had.

It took a while I guess for me… to realise that my life has been privileged too, and it has been privileged actually because of the flow-on effect and the ripple effect of the things that white western women fought for. My access to university for example: Yes I had to fight for it … but the very fact that I could go to university as a women came from those previously fought battles.

One of the reasons it has been said Trump won was because the (white) working class felt disenfranchised. Is this a risk in Australia?

I think it is a risk in Australia. I think one of the issues is, you have people like Trump and Hanson coming out and saying they’re anti-establishment. These people are 100% the establishment, they are quintessential establishment, they are quintessential politicians. And it saddens me that they are able to con people into thinking that they have the real solutions to people’s disillusionment. Because they don’t.

Being a woman in politics is difficult. How do you push forward through negativity?

I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. It’s hard to ignore it, knowing it’s coming from the fact that you’re a woman and minority as well.

I think you have to deal with it by consistently putting things in perspective. There are actually much more people who want you to speak, who are happy to have a speak than there are hate-filled, boring, pitiful people who want to shut you up.

And sometimes you have to be conscious of wanting to take time out from the hate and focus on the positive. In our office here, we have a book and we print out every single positive email, every single positive message that we get, and put it in the book. I tell my staff: when we get hate mail I want you to read that book, because it will remind you that there is hope.

Image: ALP with artwork by Nina Abrahams