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Australia Is My Family's Safe Haven. But Not Everyone Feels Safe

This Australia Day, we should also pause to reflect on issues in our communities that we can all do something about.

26/01/2017 6:41 AM AEDT | Updated 26/01/2017 6:41 AM AEDT
Filograph via Getty Images

Like many Australians, this year I will spend Australia Day at the beach with my family, as I have done for the past few years. With the hot weather and beautiful coastline that surrounds us, there is no better spot to celebrate Australia Day. This country has been our home for 19 years now. My younger sister was born two days after our arrival; Australia has been her one and only 'home'.

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Arman with his sisters Anita (L) and Atena (R)

As well as relaxing with my family, Australia Day is particularly special to me, as I stop to reflect on this beautiful and diverse country -- our safe haven. Taking a moment to appreciate the freedoms, democracy and opportunities that we enjoy here has become tradition, because for us, life wasn't always like that.

Day-to-day life growing up in Iran was very different from what I know today. I grew up believing domestic violence was a normal part of life. In 1997, my mother packed up our humble belongings -- our family was moving to Australia -- to a better future.

My excitement and anticipation was overwhelming. I couldn't wait to learn a new language and dreamed about the opportunities that our new home would hold.

Sadly, violence still followed us.

Being in an abusive and controlled marriage prevented my mother, Zahra, from living the full life that she had hoped for. Despite this, she embraced the opportunities she could in Australia. She epitomised positive Australian values of being optimistic and tenacious.

That all changed on 21st of March 2010 -- my mother's 44th birthday. That was the day my father cut her life short in front of 300 witnesses at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Growing up surrounded by domestic violence has taught me it does not discriminate. It tears families apart, as it did mine.

This Australia Day, while we celebrate the great things about life in Australia, we should also pause to reflect on issues in our communities that we can all do something about. Domestic violence is a social disease. We know that on average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. Through the dedicated foundations and individuals campaigning for change, the issue has been thrust into the spotlight -- and there is still so much to do.

Many women affected by violence lack the financial resources to leave an abusive relationship before it is too late. Many women lack the support and knowledge to know how to leave. Funding shortages, government mismanagement, loopholes in policy and legislation are only a few examples of the many challenges that domestic violence support organisations face.

Domestic violence is a social disease. We know that on average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.

While there are many issues facing this sector, I believe the key to preventing this issue from harming and killing innocent people is to educate our youth about respectful relationships.

The masculine culture we have developed and embrace, as a nation needs to change. We teach and expose our boys to sexism in early days and this culture can be toxic and have fatal outcomes. My vision for Australia is a country where diversity is embraced and celebrated. It is a place where women and children aren't victims of neglect and abuse. It is a place where a person is not insulted and isolated because of their skin colour, their religion or how they dress. I envisage a nation where citizens work together, not against each other, to resolve social issues.

My life has been marred by violence, but not defined by it. If anything it is defined by love and opportunity. This beautiful and diverse country is our safe haven and we should all celebrate that this Australia Day, with those we love.

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Arman Abrahimzadeh is the co-founder of the Zahra Foundation, 2016 Young South Australian of the Year, White Ribbon Ambassador and Our Watch Ambassador.

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