Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law Receives 2016 SABA Diversity Award

The Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law (CAMWL) was founded in 2013 by Muslim women in the legal community who were brought together by their commitment to social justice. Since then, through its public education, direct advocacy, and law reform initiatives, CAMWL has endeavoured to help shape a legal profession that is responsive to our collective obligation to promote substantive justice and equality.

On November 14, 2016, CAMWL was honoured to receive the 2016 Diversity Award from the South Asian Bar Association. What follows are the remarks delivered that night by CAMWL co-founding member, Fathima Cader.

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SABA 2016 DIVERSITY AWARD – CAMWL THANK YOU SPEECH
November 15, 2016

Hi everyone,

My name is Fathima Cader. I serve on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law (CAMWL).

It is in that capacity that I am honoured to be here today, both among you all, but also specifically here on the territories of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River.[1]

It is with a great deal of pleasure that CAMWL accepts this, the 2016 Diversity Award from the South Asian Bar Association. Thank you to my colleagues and friends on the steering committee whose dedication made this award possible: Amina Juma, Aziza Hirsi, Hodan Ahmed, Imtenan Abd-El-Razik, Ruba Ali Al-Hassani, Sharifa Khan, and Sofia Ijaz.

Many thanks also to everyone who supported us in receiving this award: Kim Stanton, Natasha Bakht, Natasha Persaud, Sonia Lawrence, and Thamina Jafferi.

But to be frank, heaviness permeates this moment too. I know that many of you in this room, like me, are still reeling from the fact that the next US president is a man who has been openly celebrated by the Ku Klux Klan. I know that many of us are taking account of rapid surge in neo-Nazi organizing that we are experiencing now here in our neighbourhoods, on our commutes, and in even on our universities.

In this era of fear that feels at once new and familiar, what does diversity mean? When the stakes are this high, what work does diversity do?

In attempting to answer those questions, I want to tell you a little about CAMWL. Our membership comprises not simply Muslim women in the legal sphere, but specifically Muslim women who have come together around a shared progressive politics. In this way, CAMWL is unique among ethnic bar associations. We understand that identity is not necessarily unity, nor need it be.

Rather, for CAMWL, our work is grounded not only in our shared social identity, but vitally in our shared political commitment to substantive social justice. And the US election has put into stark relief the urgency of the need for meaningful, for transformative change now.

But we’ve needed that change here in Canada for a long time. We cannot afford to placate ourselves with apolitcal comparisons to the US. Our current Prime Minister voted for the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and for Bill C-51, pieces of legislation that have had catastrophic effect for many of the racialized communities represented in this room tonight.

So these have long been sombre times to be accepting awards about diversity.

In this context, it cannot be that we simply pursue diversity for diversity’s sake. It cannot simply be about seeing ourselves in the halls of power. It cannot be about using diversity – of the immigrant, multicultural variety – as a deflection from the colonial violence that is foundation to and ongoing in these lands.

It has to be about diversity as just one step towards transforming the systemic injustices that structure all our lives, and the lives of our communities, and the lives of the most marginalized of clients and friends.

This is the work that CAMWL is committed to.

Thus, we are honoured to accept this award as an indication of the resonance of this activism that we have been pursuing in community with so many partners. And we see this award and this political moment as a emblematic of its ongoing need.

Thank you.

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[1] Land acknowledgement as adopted with gratitude from the 2016 Decolonizing Conference; as provided in turn by the Indigenous Education Network (IEN), University of Toronto, and revised by the Elders Circle (Council of Aboriginal Initiatives) on November 6, 2014.

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