The decision to stand for Hamilton City Council has been a difficult one for me. In the end, I decided to do so because it’s an extension of the work I’m already doing in the community.
I arrived in Hamilton as a 5-year old in 1972. At that time I was the only Indian in my primary school, the only Muslim girl in Hamilton. I’ve experienced growing up feeling that you don’t belong, that the society you live in wasn’t designed for someone like you.
I’m keen to change that experience for people from ethnic minorities living in our beautiful city. We have already come a long way. There is much greater diversity, and it shows in the food, the festivals and the colours of our city. This year, prayers at the start of Council meetings are said by a different faith group each time, as a formal recognition of diversity.
However, more can be done to improve social cohesion within the city. It is time for our ethnic minority communities to be more actively involved in Council decisionmaking. Diversity around the table leads to better decisions, as there are a greater number of perspectives.
I’m a trustee of Shama (Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre), which provides a range of services for ethnic women. We know some women have issues such as lack of access to transport, language barriers and difficulty in gaining employment. We also know that the elderly in our communities face similar issues.
The Council has a role to play in ensuring we have a strong public transport system. Council can also invest in community development, and support groups and activities which bring people together. Central government must play a role, and provide strong partnerships with local government to ensure that we build strong communities. It’s sad that central government is making it increasingly difficult for local communities to have power over what goes on in their neighbourhoods. The lack of central government resourcing for public transport is particularly damaging for many in ethnic minority communities.
Sound financial management is a priority, and I work professionally as a Chartered Accountant with small and medium-sized businesses. I also have a leadership role in NGOs, and understand that running a not-for- profit organisation is different to runninga commercial enterprise. While there are aspects of Council activities that need to have a strong commercial ethos, Council as a whole needs to function for the betterment of all people of the city. This means Council decisions should be transparent, with more consultation.
I oppose the privatisation of Council services, particularly regarding the provision of water. We must continue to have strong public amenities, and support our libraries, art facilities and museum. These are places where various communities in the city connect with each other, and they play a role in integrating ethnic minority communities with the wider population.
For example, our museum has been a trail-blazer with an exhibition focusing on different faith communities, a photographic exhibition on the Somali community, and various activities that help us get to know one another. Our library provides books in various languages, and is soon to establish a “living books” project which will involve actual people being available to have conversations with individuals and groups about their experiences.
It is activities like these, funded and supported by Council, that improve the lives of countless numbers of people in the city. It is therefore extremely sad to see the current Council cutting funding for the museum and introducing higher fines at the library thus reducing the number of people taking out books. There are savings that can made in other areas, and in particular, Council needs to have much more consultation and stronger processes before committing to major projects such as the Claudlands Events Centre and the V8 races.
Many people from ethnic minority communities tend not to vote in local body elections. It’s a pity, because so much of the work done by Council affects their daily lives. I hope people will take time to get to know their candidates, in order to make informed choices in this election.
Hamiltonian Anjum Rahman has announced her candidature for the Council elections due be held on October 12, 2013. To know more visit www.anjum.co.n