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06 October 2013

Muslim Kiwi out to make history

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By Craig Hoyle

A Waikato mother of two aims to make history in the upcoming local body elections by becoming the first elected Muslim woman in New Zealand.

Chartered accountant Anjum Rahman says she has received strong support for her campaign for Hamilton City Council.

"I’ve been working in the community for years now, and there were quite a number of people who encouraged me to put my name forward," she says.

Ms Rahman was born in India, and moved here with her parents when she was five.

"I consider myself to be a Kiwi," she says. "I’ve lived here for over 40 years, so it’s about being seen as a New Zealander like everyone else."

Retiring three-term councillor Daphne Bell says it is important local government in Hamilton shifts to reflect the increasingly diverse population of the city.

"If we look at who sits around the council table we don't have a great record of representing our diverse community," she says.

"We have one Maori councillor at the moment, but we had a 15-year drought before she was elected this term, and we've had no representatives from the Asian or African new arrivals, or Pacific Islanders."

Waikato University political scientist Priya Kurian says the needs of all constituents should be reflected by the city council.

"Diversity matters if you want good governance and appropriate representation," she says.

"The research tells us that the more diverse the council, the more likely it is to be able to respond to the needs of a diverse community."

Ms Bell says the Hamilton City Council has made progress in recent years.

"When I came onto council we only had Christian prayers opening council meetings, and they were only delivered by male clergy," she says. "Then we broadened that to include women clergy from Christian faiths, but we're a very diverse community and it seemed important to me that we publicly acknowledge that."

At the beginning of this year the council introduced interfaith prayers, which are led each month by representatives from faiths as diverse as Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Quaker, Bahia, Muslim and Sikh, in addition to the more traditional Catholic and Anglican churches.

Todd Nachowitz of the Waikato Interfaith Council says this reflects the growing diversity of the region.

"This is significant nationally because as far as we're aware, Hamilton is the only city to have an interfaith prayer rather than just a Christian prayer," he says.

Ms Kurian says it would be a step forward for Hamilton to have a Muslim woman elected to council.

"Just having someone like Anjum on the council would be a huge statement," she says. "It's a statement about the diversity of Hamilton; she represents the diversity that is Hamilton."

However Ms Rahman wants people to look beyond her background, and says she is standing on her merits.

"I work as a chartered accountant, which means I can bring some strong financial governance skills to the council," she says.

"I’m committed to the fact that many people are struggling with rates, so it's about finding that balance and making sure we have a sustainable growth model and sustainable rates."

Whatever the outcome of the local elections, Ms Bell says Ms Rahman deserves credit for standing.

"It takes a brave person to stand for council, and probably even more courage if you come from a different background, so I admire her for doing that."

Ms Rahman is one of 26 candidates standing for the East Ward in Hamilton – others include Javed Chaudry, Ian Henley and Karina Green.

Postal voting papers must be returned no later than 12pm on Saturday, October 12.

(Courtesy: 3 News)

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