It takes courage to run for a job on council while wearing a hijab
When Fauzia Mazhar knocks at doors to introduce herself, she also braces herself.
Will the person inside see a woman who runs a business, who teaches at college, who grew a non-profit group?
Or will they look only at her hijab and her brown skin, and then dismiss her?
Mazhar is a candidate for one of the four Kitchener spots on regional council.
Asking strangers to vote for her on Oct. 22 has required enormous courage.
“I refuse to vote for some one who is not a born Canadian!!” someone calling herself Lonny Murko wrote on Mazhar’s Facebook page recently .
“Don't try and force your sick religious beliefs down my throat,”
Another person with the name Fred Instigator Schwartz said: “We let them in our country and they hate it then they try to take our rights ...”
Neither Murko nor Schwartz immediately responded to my Facebook queries about their posts.
Mazhar’s supporters vigorously defended her at the time.
But “calling somebody racist does not solve the problem,” she said. “I would rather people talk, than not.”
Sometimes when she’s going door to door, voters say they can’t talk right then, and she understands. She can hear the crying child in the house, or see they’re on the phone when they open the door.
But other times, “they just look at me,” she said. “They say they’re not interested.
“It’s something in the tone, and in their face, that makes me feel it’s because of how I look.”
Many politicians running for office complain that someone is taking their lawn signs. Mazhar showed me a picture in which hers was the only sign among a dozen beside a busy road, to be pulled up.
“That really broke my heart,” she said.
But then Friday was a good day, in which she saw a woman putting another of her signs back up, on a different street. It had been overturned.
The woman turned out to be another political candidate who said, “We got your back, sister!”
Mazhar said she felt huge gratitude for that moment. “This is going to stay with me forever,” she told me.
Mazhar was born in Pakistan. She came to Canada 18 years ago.
She operates a driving school. She teaches a post-graduate course in community development and citizen engagement at Conestoga College.
She is also a founding member and board chair of the Coalition of Muslim Women, which started as 12 women who wanted to get involved in the community, as a way of confronting anti-Muslim stereotypes. It now includes 150 men and women, not all of whom are Muslim.
Mazhar doesn’t want to be seen as the minority candidate. She wants to be seen as someone with skills and experience. Someone who understands budgets, and who also understands what it’s like to be a newcomer here.
“I have a vision for Waterloo Region,” she says. “I love living here, and I want to be able to make a difference.
“This fear that people are not seeing me as a mainstream candidate is huge,” she said.
But she can’t step back.
“If we don’t participate, what kind of message do we give to our children?”