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There was a defining point in New Zealand two years ago this week, while worshippers were at prayer, fifty people were killed and over fifty others injured when an individual attacked the Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch.
Aliya Danzeisen is an example of a high achieving woman in the world, stepping up when she sees a problem, and lack of action. She was nominated in the category of public policy and advocacy as a New Zealand woman of influence in 2020. Join me for a powerful conversation around courageously stepping into the void with Aliya Danzeisen a leader for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand for the Kiwi Muslim community.
About the Guest
Aliya Danzeisen, National Coordinator at Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand and Founder of WOWMA, an internationally recognized program for Muslim youth.
About the Show
Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey with Michelle St Jane
A podcast for Global and Re-Emerging Leadership creating community/tribe, a circle of influence, transcendency of compassionate leadership in the world and wider universe. A unique destination for learning about Leadership + Conscious Stewardship + Legacy.
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Intro: You're listening to Life and Leadership: A Conscious Journey. The podcast that shares wisdom and strength. Join your host, Dr. Michelle St Jane weekly conversation on how to have a positive impact for people, planet and the wider world. If you want to live a life with intention, be proactive with your time and bring your vision for the future to life one day at a time, you are in the right place at the right time. Let's get started.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: I see your life and sphere of influence in the world in quite modest terms because you're looking at a relative small number of people that you have impact on compared to the seven and a half billion that occupy this earth. In your own small way, you have a real effect on the world as you deepen and become clearer [00:01:00] around your connection to all humanity and your conscious journey.
How can you not stand idly by. What do you need to stand up for? Share your talent, open your heart. The world is waiting for someone just like you. Aliya Danzeisen is an example of a high achieving woman in the world. Stepping up when she sees a problem and lack of action. She offers selfless service for the benefit and interests of others in her community and wider globally. Aliya was nominated in the category of public policy and advocacy as a New Zealand woman of influence in 2020.
Join me for a powerful conversation around courageously stepping into the void to create change around public policy and advocacy, Aliya. So good to see you and what an honor to stand amongst such amazing woman as a finalist for a woman of influence in New Zealand Awards in 2020.
[00:02:00] Aliya your nomination was around the category of advocacy and public policy. I value all your service. For listeners, can you give them a little bit of how you ended up on the forefront of all of this?
Aliya Danzeisen: Well, I moved to New Zealand almost 15 years ago. Prior to coming to New Zealand, I practiced law in the United States. I'm Muslim. When I came here, I was actually asked by the New Zealand government initially to help Muslim youth integrate into New Zealand. So I just started a youth program. Then, because the program was working and there was so much engagement in it, the national Muslim organization for women asked if I would get involved there.
Over a period of time from regional representation to the national representation I ended up being elected as the assistant national coordinator for the Islamic Woman's Council of New Zealand. In that role, because [00:03:00] I had been a lawyer and because I had a youth program that was working, actually seen as best practices, not just for New Zealand, but globally for Muslim female use, they asked me to start engaging with government and leading the government engagement. portfolio for the. Islamic Women's Council to help support our community and the challenges that were being faced.
Obviously I was in that and we were asking for help from the government and we were explaining what the challenges that our community was facing. Like, for example, when the Islamic state matter in Iraq and Syria arose, there were repercussions with Islamophobia and things on our community. We were advocating we needed support here. We had warned that we were afraid there was potential for our community to be harmed. So we were seeking engagement and we did that prior to the Christchurch terror attacks.
As a result of the Christchurch [00:04:00] terror attacks, I was really, really pushed to the forefront. I had been quietly doing that government engagement prior to then, and just engaging with government, but then I was just pushed. By circumstances to be on the national level publicly and internationally.
So through media, but also just the need to be advocating on such a high level consistently. So that's what I was doing the last two years.
The advocacy relates to getting support for the impacted families from the terror attacks, but also really pushing advocacy on a national level for all diverse communities in New Zealand and the need for the government to be responsive, to challenges that those communities are facing.
I've been working on that for the last 20 months. Over time, it built up and it came to the point that I think people were aware of the advocacy and also the urgency of the type of advocacy[00:05:00] because of the terror attacks there was a Royal commission put forward. I, as a representative of the Islamic woman's council, want been a core participant in that. To try and see if the attacks were preventable. I've been quite at the forefront. Then people, I didn't even know, had never met, were the ones who put my name forward in these categories.
For me, it was a huge honor that people had seen the value and at the Capital. They had seen my advocacy through media and the impact and nominated me. I hadn't met them or known of them before that. I have since met them and thank them and it was a real honor to sit down and talk with them and discuss what they had seen and why they felt it was important as well. They're just lovely people. That's the basic short story of it.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: [00:06:00] Let's go back to the beginning when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Aliya Danzeisen: I wanted to be so many things. First things that I remember, my mother had broken her foot and so she had to go to physio therapy every week at a Catholic hospital and there were nuns who are really, really nice. You know I engaged with every week. She's like, Oh, do you want to be a nun when you grow up? And I'm like, yeah, I want to be a nun. So probably the first thing I ever thought of was I wasn't even Catholic. And then through high school, it was journalism that I wanted to be and why I was really interested in international matters.
From that then probably by university age, I thought I would work probably in one of the global organization, like UN, or an organization like the American States or something like that to make more cross border a difference.
[00:07:00] I became a high school teacher because I was interested in third world development as well at that time and needed to understand education. So I took education courses along with all the other courses. At the end of it, I did my teacher training and ended up loving it and was a teacher for a little bit. Then, I was like, am I going to be happy long-term in my life teaching. So I became a lawyer in the States and I practiced law and litigated.I went to law school expecting to do international law and then found out really good at arguing and debating. I became a litigator and practiced law in the States.
Then I got sweet talked into moving to New Zealand because it was the beautiful place. And Love comes along with that. I haven't regretted the decision to move. It's quite a beautiful place. People respect your time and it's an enjoyable, healthy environment. I [00:08:00] would say both emotionally and physically. And it's ironic even after the attacks where, how traumatizing and devastating it's been to New Zealand, but I still don't regret the move.
Overall the concept of wellbeing as a nation is a priority that a lot of nations don't have when I moved to New Zealand, I chose to go back to teaching. So my fear that when I was older, I wasn't going to be happy teaching hasn't come to pass. Then this year I received a study award. So I get my full salary and I get to study, which was lovely. Again, New Zealand government has set that up with the teacher association. I was one of the people who received that and I've been able to study educational leadership. In that time as well, I found it really interesting, fascinating. It allowed me to sit back and think about the type of leadership I want to have and also to think about the leadership that's influenced me.
That's where I'm at right now, where to from here [00:09:00] is going to be an interesting thing.
Yeah. When I was young, I was going to be a nun and then a journalist and then a political scientist. Yeah, it's just continues on. I have fifty more years, probably, hopefully.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: From there to where, and it's interesting. We parallel, I started off in law and then after I was practicing law, I had the opportunity to teach law. I was teaching. American law, English, law, Canadian law, all kinds. I, like you have a heart for comparative law or international law. I think we cross over on human rights as well. Don't we?
Aliya Danzeisen: I've done research related to human rights in the Caribbean. I have a big social desk. This is one of my, probably if we go back to when I was three or four years old, social justice in a form was something maybe as the youngest child by seven years and wanting to keep up with everyone. I just, everything needed to be fair and [00:10:00] equal from that point. And throughout my life, social justice and equality is very important and what's ironic is I've never really focused on the gender aspects of social justice in the sense of myself. Yet I've been forced into that time and time again, I grew up on a farm. I was one of three daughters, which normally farmers at that time really wanted sons to help on the farm. And my father didn't have sons, so we did everything that male's did. And from that point, I've never doubted that I could hold my own amongst men.
For my legal career, almost all of the people I worked were males. Yet in my personal life, I'm surrounded with females and even where I've chosen to invest my time and work with Muslim female youth, it's building up females so that [00:11:00] they feel comfortable doing that rather than confronting men. I guess would be, you know, like I built that confidence and investment on the female side, but just because it's the right thing to do, not specifically because it's a gender. I would do it for men too, I guess, but it's just females tend to connect with me. So it gets quite interesting that I'm comfortable working with men. Females are very comfortable working with me. Hmm,
Dr. Michelle St Jane: fascinating. I can empathize with that. I kind of did things a little bit backwards from you because growing up in New Zealand, the core values are around fairness. Whereas in the States the core values are around freedom. So I have to mind my fairness meter.
My legal work was very much around corporate peacemaking in terms of getting mean to the table to sort of grow their understanding of discrimination, equality and what women might need in the workplace. So I’ve been a corporate peacemaker more than a litigator [00:12:00] for me, but certainly I had to wise up in doing business in the Northern hemisphere, particularly in North America is about freedom.
My Kiwi core values are all about fairness. I have a major leaning into a legacy around access to justice, which filters into social justice. If you ever want to see me be up front and squaring off with people is if people do not have access to justice and their rights on front and center kind of slowed down a bit on that front now.
Aliya Danzeisen: Well, that the aspect, you know, in that concept of freedom, that I really believe in these aspects of freedom, but people tend to only focus on one. Right or one, you know, there are a significant number of freedoms that we'll ignore and don't realize that there's this dynamic and if you go to laying out all those freedoms, it actually goes down to fairness.
[00:13:00] Actually, if you lay them out side by side and you see all of the freedoms and the rights next to each other, all the core aspect is fairness.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Except in capitalism.
Aliya Danzeisen: The thing is, I would say there is one thing was with people who are defined policy and there's another thing with the average American. The average American that I grew up with, I'm not saying everybody, but the average American that I grew up with really was about, is it fair? Well, they may be being taught, freedoms. Their interactions were on a fairness basis. The other thing is like, so I grew up in rural Midwest area. There was such a sense of community, even though the us prides itself on individualism, there was such a sense of community where I grew up.
And so it isn't a full thing. If people right now that are talking about the individual. Most of the times, if you looked at [00:14:00] it, it wasn't the individual that got themselves where they're at, it's the community that actually did that. We have to start valuing that more again, I think, and we have to articulate it as a community, as a nation and even on world level.
And we actually have to start investing in the community so that the people, when they be, they have their individual opportunities and rights and freedoms, they're built up. In a quality manner.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Well put! I definitely found my work very strongly now around conscious stewardship and raising awareness around that. You and I are on the world stage. We have a presence. We have a worldwide network. People listened to what we say. We're members of the intelligentsia here being conscious about how we contribute to those conversations has a ripple out affect. I take that responsibility very much to heart in terms of making sure I am aligned not only in [00:15:00] my physical presence, but also in my digital presence as well.
So you founded WOWMA how cool. Why? I think you might've touched on a little bit from your heart.
What is your soul's calling?
What was your hope?
Are you reaching those goals?
Aliya Danzeisen: so WOWMA stands for the Women's Organization of the Waikato Muslim Association. I based it in the region of New Zealand called the Waikato. We were actually approached by the government. I was working on teaching and I was doing a law degree at the same time. The New Zealand government approached our president of our association and said, “we need help because we were having female youth that were getting in trouble with the police, having challenges with school.” They said, “we need help from women in the community.” They asked president to point out five women that are doers, and he pointed to me and four other [00:16:00] women who are doers. We got called to this meeting. We were introduced and told what the issues were, which we actually knew. Our president had seen it. I myself had to go and report a small, minor crime at the police station and had seen youth from my community walking in for meetings with police. There were like parole meetings or probation meetings, that kind of thing and so I knew it. When they were talking about these issues, we were all like, yes, they're real issues, but we're really busy. The woman said, “well, point me to five other women that can do it. I need five women. We can work together.” And we couldn't point to five other women. So then we got talked into governing as a committee and trying to get things done. And because I had worked with youth, I was a teacher, but I'd also worked with youth camps in the States as a program director and things I was tagged for the youth portfolio.
We decided that that was where the priority would be so that they become connected to our community, that they come [00:17:00] connected to New Zealand, but also we started building our community.
So I developed the WOWMA program, which is a three year sustainable program and it was working really well. The first year we connected the youth to each other, so that they feel like they have a community. The second year we connected them to the traditions and the people of the land so that they feel like they have a place here in New Zealand. The vast majority of our youth are either migrants, 75% come from overseas, but 25% were born here, but of the 25% born here, a significant number of them come from migrant community as well. We wanted them to have a place. Then the third year we offer a leadership program or those who are showing interest and potential at the end of it. If they completed all their obligations in a leadership program, then they go on what we call the journey. The first time it was four nights and the next time it was [00:18:00] five nights on a river and they work with each other paddling through and really become a cohesive group. They had already been working with each other for a year, but that’s final challenge. Then they come out a bit stronger and to lead. It was working quite effectively.
What's happened in the last few years. Is that because I've had to focus on the national level and sustaining this become more ad hoc in the sense of the consistency. The subsequent leaders are now having children. They can't focus as deep. One of my goals this year is actually getting back to doing that cycle again. The challenge of having to do all this national and international advocacy has required me to pull off my time from developing my own community. That's actually my sweet spot. [00:19:00] That's where I like to invest my time and it brings me a lot of joy.
The advocacy, I'm good at it, it's needed so it's been the priority. If I could control the world, my focus would be on the youth and going out and adventuring with them. The nice thing is we're opening a retreat. We have a retreat and so that's a legacy that stands. The building is finished. We now just are getting the property. It's a small, it's a three bedroom. It's not huge, but it's actually an idea where, it's not flashy in the sense of high-end five star, it is a basic retreat where, where our users can go and relax and they can go and reflect and not just the youth, but adult women as well. It's right by the sea and they will be able to launch kayaks if they wish. But it's really just to reflect, [00:20:00] relax and connect with each other or with God.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: How wonderful is that being to pause in the busy-ness of today? Is so precious. I'm very grateful to hear that.
I live in a very similar position when I started a social enterprise law firm and you know, after 10 years I was pretty exhausted and I was very blessed to be able to sustainably transition the leadership, but how does the right person has to come along and. How you then transition the next one, just how you get her regenerative cycle going, can be quite a challenge. Especially when you identified your sweet spot as well. So it's good that you've got a law school up the Hill. Ideal for an advocacy program and you may be able to draw in some help.
Aliya Danzeisen: That would be nice. It's really the other aspect of advocacy is that people, you know, on a community basis, they actually need to know the community well. Either be [00:21:00] invested in the community or know it very, very well, which takes a lot of time.
And that's where we. Because we've been such a migrant community. It's taking time, but we're getting there and we're tapping women who are in their late twenties to early forties to start developing them more so that they feel comfortable to take our space. We've asked people, you know, come in and take our space.
And they're like, Oh, we can't, because they've seen us as quite strong and had having to be strong with the advocacy. So they're reluctant. And so with that, we're having personal conversations, but in the sense of explaining where we were. But we weren't on that global stage kind of thing at the time, you know, when we were developing our leadership. We're trying to get alongside some females that we see with that potential in that age range. Late twenties to early [00:22:00] forties to just have them come along with us for a while, and then hopefully step into our space.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Wonderful. You may want to go a generation up and draw in the elders in terms of, you know, we've got women now in their sixties and seventies, who've had careers, which wasn't the norm. Baby boomers not retiring quietly to a corner. It may be perfect opportunity to be calling into action, the elder ladies to come back and as well.
Aliya Danzeisen: Well, what we'll show explain a unique demographic of New Zealand because of the immigration policy. We don't have elders. Whereas the average population in New Zealand has about 20 to 25% actually elders in their community. We have less than 6%. Then inside of that, 6% of elders most of them are migrants and with limited English. There's a, another dynamic there. You actually find that one person or two people and they're [00:23:00] not supported. That elder role is actually coming on my generation and I'm in my early fifties.
Besides that we have working careers and we're trying to build up our community. That's why we're having to tap that next generation a bit earlier. The other thing is our community is like almost twice as young as the rest of New Zealand because of that immigration constraint and dynamic.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Let me also say happy birthday and thank you for contributing your wisdom and strength.
I think you've covered some future challenges and what you've just said, but is there anything else that you would suggest.
Aliya Danzeisen: Well, what we have right at the forefront is the Royal commission report and it's a large report. It's almost 800 pages and it is just the review of new Zealand's [00:24:00] public service and the public service is going to need to do some adjustments. That's at the forefront right now in helping New Zealand get it right for all communities in how they engage in the open and transparent manner. New Zealand has a reputation overseas as being open and transparent and it isn't a lot of ways. But what it's been doing, and this is my opinion, with some communities it will handle it for you rather than being open and transparent about what is needed and allowing the communities to help solve the matter. That's been historically a pattern that needs to be changed and we hope this Royal permission report will do that. As a result, we have to step into that space and really ensure that that's [00:25:00] occurring and those recommendations will be really important. That's at the forefront.
Long-term we want to see our community connecting with the traditions and the history of this land and feeling part of New Zealand. In a sense, you saw the togetherness after, after the attacks, we would like that to be a lived experience on an ongoing basis for all communities coming in. That would be where we would focus besides what comes in with the Royal commission.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Wonderful. Is there any last words Aliya.
Aliya Danzeisen: [00:25:42]In the sense of communities that I think is really, really important that we allow the communities that are of interest or at risk to speak for themselves and to actually really, really listen to what they need. When people say, I need this, there is a basis for why they're saying it. You may not fully agree that they will need it, but you really need to delve into that basis of why. And you need to also you being general, I'm talking general, looking at empirical data sometimes. [00:26:27]
I'll use an example. They continually said, the government prior to the Muslim community was a risk, but yet there hadn't been any. Incidents in New Zealand, right. All the indicators that we were giving them, uh, regarding the how settled our community is how happy our community is here.
We're kind of just pushed the side, [00:26:43]when we were actually giving data to them regarding our risks, And saying, we need help. We don't know how big this risk is, but we feel this risk and this is the, and we were giving examples because kind of ignored it because globally they were being told something else.
I think had we been listened to, I feel like rather than just spoken with, I guess, would be if we'd actually listened, I think there would have been more solutions on the table.[00:27:13]
Dr. Michelle St Jane: That's a wicked problem. Frankly, Christchurch has been the site of a couple of that, you know, that's two major events, one with an earthquake and one with a terrorist attacks.” So you're quite right.
Aliya Danzeisen: And that listening with the earthquake was another concern. Do you know what I mean? And what was needed, what was needed to help solve and rebuild was also a concern, but I'm feeling confident about the world. And I know people are stressed, then I know the pandemic is stressing everybody, but I am seeing glimpses of hope everywhere.
And it's from the neighbors who are taking care of each other. In this time, people were like, Oh, they're not going to, or everybody. [00:28:00] And it's been the contrast that human empathy that's amongst the vast majority of people coming out and you see it in little vignettes. Unfortunately we have to rely on media to see it, but I see little glimpses all over the world.
And I think that if people feel confident in that, then they can build something for themselves and that's making me feel more positive. Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Michelle St Jane: Thank you for your contribution and thank you for your service. You're one of the leading lights. So my life, the last five years. And it's been such a pleasure that you
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National Coordinator at Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand and Founder of WOWMA
Nominated in the category of public policy and advocacy as a New Zealand woman of influence in 2020. Aliya Danzeisen a leader for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand for the Kiwi Muslim community.