Widyan aims to remove headscarf barriers

The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened six years after Iraqi refugee Widyan Al Ubudy fled with her family to Australia, and only a few weeks after she began wearing a headscarf.

She was in a safe country far removed from the attacks, but they still shook her world.

In the street, a man spotted her headscarf and threw a water bottle at her as he drove by, yelling "Get off the street, you terrorist". She was 11 years old, and this was her first taste of racism.

Ms Al Ubudy graduated from the University of Wollongong yesterday after undertaking an honours year in Muslim women's media advocacy in Australian, post 9/11.

She interviewed 12 prominent Muslim women as part of her research, aimed at shining a light on the challenges and achievements of Muslim women who act as advocates for their community by speaking in the Australian mainstream media.

Ms Al Ubudy, of Smithfield in Sydney's west, found the women had been misrepresented.

"There is the idea that they're repressed and they're subjugated - and that isn't the case," she said.

"[The misrepresentation] is a problem for someone like me because - apart from the racism that came, particularly post-9/11, it became problematic that a lot of people found it difficult to relate to me, or felt that I was repressed and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life."

Ms Al Ubudy aims to become the first news presenter on Australian television to wear a headscarf.

She hopes to use the media to tackle the misrepresentation, as well as the "double bind" she said faced many female Muslim media advocates, whereby their public comments were later held against them by the Muslim community.

"Let's say she has an issue with the prayer space in the mosque. The media may use that against the very community that she's trying to defend. She can't speak out publicly without it being held against her." 

Ms Al Ubudy has already taken a job as host with SBS radio's PopAraby music program and is a project co-ordinator for the NSW government's Community Relations Commission.

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