It takes courage to run for a job on coun­cil while wear­ing a hi­jab

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - LUISA D’AMATO ldam­ato@there­ Twit­ter: @Dam­a­toRecord

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?”

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