Women from diaspora communities met at the Unions NSW building in Parramatta on 1 March to celebrate International Women’s Day and discuss the role of women in diaspora communities in promoting peace, human rights and development. Three panels discussed the problems facing refugees in Australia, sexual violence in militarised zones and how women in diaspora communities can help women in their countries of origin.
Nava Malula, Australia National Committee for Refugee Women, said migrant women faced multiple challenges in Australia. Learning the language, supporting their families, working in the home and outside were among the challenges women faced in their lives in the land of freedom, she said.
SBS journalist Shalailah Medhora said that the voices of refugee women are often lost, because they don’t necessarily think they can communicate their problems, or feel like they have nothing valid to say. Medhora said that refugee women are often portrayed in the media as victims. She called for the formation of advocacy groups and societies by refugee women as these groups make it easier for journalists, for example, to find these marginalised sections of society.
Dr Mehreen Faruqi, Greens member for the legislative council, asked why women were poorly represented in many areas of work and public life in Australia. She urged women to take an active part in the political process.
Member for Parramatta, Julie Owens, MP, addressed the meeting and spoke to the attendees about how they could get the attention of local politicians and have their concerns represented in parliament.
Amnesty International’s Ming Yu spoke about the possible reasons for sexual violence against women in militarised zones and what could be done to prevent such human rights abuses and war crimes. Dr Sam Pari of the Australian Tamil Congress spoke about systematic and state sanctioned rape and sexual torture against Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka and said that there was evidence to show that sexual violence was used as a tool to execute structural genocide against the Tamil nation. She highlighted that men and children too were victims of sexual violence, and excessive militarisation of the Tamil homeland allowed for these crimes to take place at such large scales.
Seng Maw Lahpai of the Kachin Ethnic community in Australia spoke of the Burmese army’s rights violations against Kachin women. Lahpai too stressed that there was nothing random about acts of sexual violence and rape in areas of war and ethnic domination.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia)
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