Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand (IWCNZ)

1990 –

Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand (IWCNZ)

1990 –

Theme: Immigration and ethnicity

This essay written by Lynette Townsend was published online in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 2020.

The Muslim community in Aotearoa NewZealand is made up of a diverse group of people of many different ethnicities and countries of origin. Their historical presence dates back to when Indian Muslim sailors came here as crew on European ships in the eighteenth century. A man named Wuzerah and his family became the first known Muslim family to settle here when they arrived in 1854 with British immigrant Cracroft Wilson (1808–1881). [1]

The first registered Islamic society, known as the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA), was set up in 1950. [2] While there were women on committees, it was not until 1990 that a formal group specifically for Muslim women was established. The Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand (IWCNZ) formed with the aim of meeting the needs of Muslim women throughout New Zealand. A key aim of the group was to:

Support Muslim women's empowerment by encouraging women to gain the skills and knowledge, spiritually, socially and economically that will enable them to overcome obstacles in daily life, work, and other environments that ultimately assist them to develop within themselves and within society. [3]

Some 90 women attended the inaugural IWCNZ hui in 1990, electing Aliya Holmes as the first President and Anjum Rahman as the first secretary. As a national body, the group established a range of programmes, facilitated annual conferences and lecture tours by local and international speakers, and organised youth camps for young Muslim women. They made submissions to several parliamentary select committees, inquiries and Bills. They facilitated communication throughout the regions and shared useful resources throughout the country.

At a regional level, IWCNZ members also established a large variety of programmes and events tailored to their communities’ needs. Activities ranged from educational classes, counselling and support services and Qur’an focused learning activities to sports events, food banks and prison visits. [4]

Photograph of five women

Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand Inc.

The Administrative Council of the Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand at the March 2018 annual conference, held in the Wellington Islamic Centre. Left to right: Anjum Rahman, Dr Maysoon Salamah, Aliya Danzeisen (outgoing), Munira Khan, Leila Adam (outgoing).

In 2019, regional branches of the IWCNZ included local groups in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Hastings, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Nominated representatives served on the IWCNZ full Council, where they upheld the interests of Muslim women and girls at the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand Council meetings. An Administration Council of five members, elected by the full Council, undertook the governance of the organisation and acted at the national level.

National annual conferences were open to all Muslim women. In addition, the IWCNZ hosted sporting events, girls’ youth camps and workshops focusing on empowering women and children to feel safe.

Another key component of the work of IWCNZ was speaking out on the rights of the Muslim community in a variety of forums, including government ministries and agencies such as the New Zealand Police. They often represented a Muslim perspective in the media, and participated in national and international forums related to faith, human rights, youth development and health.

After the Christchurch terrorist attacks on Muslims at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre on 15 March 2019, members of IWCNZ represented the community in the media. A key focus was highlighting the extent to which the Muslim community and other ethnic minorities were dealing with discrimination and abuse daily.

Lynette Townsend


[1] Drury, A., 2018, p. 76.

[2] Drury, A., 2006, p. 5.

[3] IWCNZ website,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Livingston, T., ‘Anjum Rahman unveils national strategy to fight discrimination’, Stuff, 17 May 2019,

Published sources

Drury, Abdullah, Islam in New Zealand: the first mosque. A short history of the New Zealand Muslim Association and the Ponsonby Mosque, self-published, 2006

Drury, Abdullah, ‘Mahometans on the Edge of Colonial Empire: Antipodean Experiences’, Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, Vol. 29 No. 1, 2018, 71-87, DOI: 10.1080/09596410.2017.1384230

Further sources

Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand website:

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Ian Ritchie

Posted: 27 Aug 2020

I think the way submissions to the government prior to the Christchurch massacre needs to be written up to show that the massacre should not have been a surprise and that Government agencies were in effect complicit in this.
To me, an ordinary bystander, Governments associated with the US and the constant demonising of Muslims in general have a lot to answer for, and the behaviours leading up to the massacre should be documented and spelled out so that more may see the connections and react accordingly.
Best wishes
Ian Ritchie