THE AUSTRALIAN OCTOBER 18 2014
IN community centres and classrooms in Melbourne, terrorism and domestic violence are being tackled not with weapons and intelligence, but through education.
Leadership courses are helping to empower migrant and refugee women to take stronger roles in their communities, arming them with an understanding of Australian society and practical skills, such as how to apply for jobs.
For Nayran Tabiei, who arrived in Australia by boat two years ago with her husband and young daughter, the course gave her the confidence to become more involved in her community.
“I felt I was a diamond, but a hidden diamond,” she said. “When I went to the leadership course ... it helped us to be the voice here for our community.”
For four terrifying nights while on her way to Australia, Ms Tabiei lay on her back with her daughter, Alnour, on her stomach, expecting their crowded fishing boat to break apart in heavy storms.
The boat carried her from Indonesia to Christmas Island, far from the persecution and conflict she fled first in Iran, then Syria. But when she arrived, Ms Tabiei faced new fears about fitting into a country she knew little about.
“I worried: ‘How will they accept me?’ I am Muslim, I wear a hijab’,” she said. “But these classes encourage us, they teach us you are no different, it doesn’t matter what is your religion, what you speak ... you can be a leader for your community.”
Run by the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, the course covers women’s rights, community leadership, public speaking and other topics, over 35 hours.
Finally, an article was written about our Women's Leadership Course and how it has helped many women find pathways towards being active leaders and change agents within their families and communities. Thanks to Nicola Berkovic of The Australian for the leadership story of Nayran Tabei!
VIRWC executive director Melba Marginson estimated that about 1000 migrants and asylum-seekers — most of them women — had so far completed it.
“In these communities, many women do not have a voice,” she said. “If they actually go through the leadership course they become active agents within their families and they’re able to influence their daughters and sons and eventually their husbands.”
Ms Marginson said that by becoming better communicators, mothers could help to prevent their sons from becoming radicalised and to fight family violence and racism. She said young women could also start to assert their rights.
Now, Ms Tabiei teaches cooking, volunteers in a leisure centre and is studying childcare while she waits to find out if she can remain in the country.
The VIRWC encourages those who complete the course to run for hospital boards, school councils and local government.
Remarkably, in 2012, 10 migrant women who had completed it ran in local council elections and, in 2016, Ms Marginson hopes this will increase to 15. “I believe we have stumbled upon a really good way of changing society through the women, but we need more support,” she said.