“You’re really well known in Iraq,” was the greeting an Iraqi woman, now living in Australia, gave me a few days ago.
When I visited Tasmania last week I wasn’t expecting to hear about how I’d become a household name in Iraq, admired by many women over there.
Her comments brought home to me just how the issue of family violence knows no barriers of language and culture. The woman (I won’t give her name for privacy reasons) and her two children had accompanied her husband to Australia.
Her husband arrived on a student visa but she has no legal status to remain in Australia in her own right. After experiencing significant violence in the relationship she was forced to leave and is now living in a refuge. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult situation: she can’t go back to her violent husband, but she will be killed if she returns to Iraq.
She is being assisted by the refuge to seek permission to remain here in Australia and the Migrant Resource Centre, one of the many groups I met with over four days of meetings and events across Tasmania.
While family violence is terrible for anyone to deal with, many migrant women face the added difficulty of being cut off or condemned by family and communities that might otherwise support them.
Many migrant women who come here as refugees are also dealing with the effects of torture and trauma they experienced in their home countries. I was pleased, therefore, to see Michaela Cash, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, announce at the end of last week that women who move to Australia with their partners will now be issued with information packs telling them that rape, violence and forced marriage are illegal.
I was delighted that I also had the opportunity to speak this week to the Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and the Tasmanian Minister for Women, Jacquie Petrusma, to talk about the issue of family violence.
I am encouraged to see the Premier taking leadership of this issue - "Few issues are more important than this one" he has said - and I’m looking forward to seeing how they will turn these words into action in the coming months.
I’m even more impressed when I meet women who’ve experienced family violence and taken their own stand against it. I’ll finish this column with a brief mention of the Breaking the Silence group. This is a group of women in the northern Hobart suburb of Tasmania who have started their own advocacy group that campaigns on behalf of women and children on Facebook and other social media. Check them out facebook.com/breakingthesilenceag.
They have just written a resource book called Hidden that will be launched at Tasmania’s Parliament in a couple of weeks. As they say: “Our voices can be heard. There’s a chance for the future to be different.” I wish them all the very best.