'The World Is A Very Intimidating Place For Us': Addressing Domestic & Family Violence In Indian Communities

The Community Migrant Resource Centre's 'Global EmpowerHER' event brought politicians, business leaders and community advocates together to discuss the multi-faceted approaches required to address this issue in Australia and beyond.

Tahmara Thomas, Renu Bhatia, Mansi Bhatia and Melissa Monteiro

Tahmara Thomas, Renu Bhatia, Mansi Bhatia and Melissa Monteiro. Image Source: Draw Your Box

TW: Domestic violence. On average, one woman in Australia is killed every nine days by a current or former partner, and two in five women have experienced violence since the age of 15. These statistics paint a devastating picture of how rampant violence against women is in this country, but of course, being aware of numbers alone won’t address this issue. What’s more, a multicultural nation like Australia requires an intersectional, culturally informed approach to addressing domestic violence – a point highlighted by Labor MP and Member for Parramatta, Dr Andrew Charlton, on Friday night. 

Speaking at the ‘Global EmpowerHER: Uniting for Empowerment and Equality’ event in Sydney, Charlton said that “Australia is a multicultural community and issues like this need to be solved sensitively to different communities who address these issues in different ways and have their own perspectives and challenges”.

Hosted by the Community Migrant Resource Centre (CMRC), this event focused on the Indian community in Australia, while also highlighting the collaboration between IWE (Indian Women Empower) and the Women's State Commission Haryana, India.

With guest speakers and an insightful panel discussion, conversations touched on topics such as empowering women through education and economic security, educating boys and men about respect towards women, and the significance of community-led initiatives in addressing violence against women. 

Renu Bhatia

Renu Bhatia. Image Source: Draw Your Box

As a not-for-profit, charitable organisation established in 1996, CMRC has spent almost three decades providing specialised support services to newly arrived migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants. Women’s safety has been a key priority, with its Indian Women Empower (IWE) project focused on addressing various challenges faced by Indian and Subcontinent women in their settlement in Australia.

“Every week behind the scenes, we are referring women to safe places, organisations and referral pathways that have been created in Western Sydney especially,” said Melissa Monteiro, the CEO of Community Migrant Resource Centre. 

“We have ensured that women from the Indian diaspora living in Australia are safe, enjoy full, healthy relationships, and have every opportunity to succeed in Australia,” she continued. 

Through mentorships, coaching, networking, training and capacity building, Monteiro explained that whether it’s supporting “business women” or “housewives”, IWE strives to help address some of the more prominent issues faced by many Indian women in Australia – such as domestic and family violence, and underemployment. 

South Asian communities, including the Indian community, face a myriad of unique challenges in addressing domestic and family violence. As I previously reported at Refinery29 Australia, these include “strict gender roles, dowry abuse, migration and citizenship, extended family structures and stigmas around mental health”. 

Alluding to family structures and gender roles, Monteiro said that “at the end of the day, we want to create strong, vibrant women and families by reducing familial inequality, and strengthening relationships within the family”. 

IWE Ambassador Mansi Bhatia

IWE Ambassador and MC on the night Mansi Bhatia. Image Source: Draw Your Box

Other speakers at the event included Councillor Emelda Davis (the first Black woman elected to serve on the City of Sydney Council), Donna Davis MP (Member for Parramatta), Dr Astrid Perry OAM (Head of Women, Equality and Domestic Violence at Settlement Services International), Joseph La Posta (CEO of Multicultural NSW), Ms Nalika Padmasena OAM, Mansi Bhatia (IWE Ambassador) and Renu Bhatia (Chair of Women’s State Commission Haryana, India). 

Bhatia’s perspective captured the room filled with politicians, business leaders and community advocates, as she detailed the work of the Women’s State Commission in Haryana, India. One of the key actions has been educating women from a young age.

“[From] college onwards, we are telling girls how to be safe when planning a family,” she explained. “How to be safe when you’re going to higher studies, how to be safe in this world in your society or the area you’re working [in].” 

Also acknowledging how fundamental male allies are in addressing domestic and family violence, she said, “Thank you to all the men who are here supporting us”. 

Dr Astrid Perry, Nalika Padmasena, Sonia Gandhi and Melissa Monteiro

Dr Astrid Perry, Nalika Padmasena, Sonia Gandhi and Melissa Monteiro. Image Source: LinkedIn/Gandhi Creations

While there was an overall emphasis on the night in supporting migrant women, it’s important to remember that the younger generation born and brought up here can play a huge role in shaping the diaspora’s attitudes towards addressing domestic violence. This was echoed by Tahmara Thomas, the CEO of Her Village – a not-for-profit organisation set on empowering young women of refugee background as the leaders of our tomorrow.

Thomas highlighted that in order to make a difference, young women of all walks of life need to be heard. They need to feel safe and empowered in order to become the leaders of tomorrow. 

“The world is a very intimidating place for us. It’s scary on a physical level as a young woman because we see the statistics,” she said. “We know there’s so much gender-based violence and then [when] we enter the workplace, we know that’s not going to be an easy experience. It’s also really intimidating because there’s a fear of making mistakes and young women are scrutinised.”

@drawyourbox What does it take to address DV in Indian communities in Australia and beyond? #desitok #indian #southasian #women #brownwomen #indianwomen ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

As the university student left the audience with the following powerful quote, it served as a reminder of how prevalent gender inequality is, and how the stakes are often that much higher for women. 

“I wish women could fail as bad as men could”. 

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