60 seconds with Neslihan Sari

Neslihan Sari

Paralegal at Public Transport Victoria, disability and civil liberties advocate and cat lover

What are you enjoying doing at the moment? 
Working hard and seeking out exciting opportunities wherever I can. As a person from a CALD background, who has a disability (vision impairment), a non-English name, and who dons a veil, I often find myself negotiating multiple ‘identities’ and prejudices. It has been a long journey in finding full-time employment for example. But now that I finally do have a job – with a great team as a bonus – I have been able to achieve a dream I thought I’d never reach, to buy my very own brand new apartment! Every day, I enjoy waking up and saying ‘yes I can’. It has been a long journey in being able to say that phrase with conviction.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have? Or if you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I always wanted to fly, freeze time/people and read people’s minds! If I had a magic wand, I would use it to eradicate evil feelings and thoughts from the hearts of people and make everybody smile and dance. I would make cats rule the world. Okay, maybe not that last one… (because they already do!)

What talent would you most like to possess?
To be physically flexible and do all sorts of fancy acrobatic tricks.

What is your best quality or attribute?
People have told me that I am empathetic, a keen observer and listener.

What is the best part of your day?
The best part of my day is usually around 9am because the weather is almost always deceptively sunny and calm around that time, before it decides what mood to take on for the rest of the day. It is a new beginning to the day when only God knows what surprises that will come.

What’s your favourite word?
“YES”. Say yes to opportunities, but let your values and principles always guide you.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
You are an asset to this country. Don’t let anybody make you feel unwelcome or less of a person because of anything – whether it is due to your race, your appearance, your name, accent, religion, culture, ideas, dress, health, educational or economic status etc. The bigger the dream, the harder you have to work towards it. Immerse yourself in the many cultures, explore the natural beauty and wildlife Australia has to offer. Open your world to someone. Find a mentor, be a mentor. As one person once said, “If you are not at the table, you will end up on the menu.” Be there and speak up.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant background?
Having access to a rich culture and greater perspective on various topics. I can speak in another language with my friends or my mother whilst out shopping and it could be like a secret code that the shop keeper won’t understand.

What could you never be without?
Quite frankly, oxygen, food, water, shelter, my faith and my mobility cane. It is simply a stick made of aluminium and about a metre long. It allows me to navigate my way around in this crazy big world. Without it, I would be like a fish out of water and very limited in where I could travel. I would bump into, or trip over things, and make new enemies with every person I walk into!

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism is a politicised term. But ideally, for me it involves more than just sharing good cuisine and music. Multiculturalism means a diversity of cultures integrated under one harmonious umbrella. It means respecting and embracing each other as human beings. It means recognising that we are all human with all the basic human needs, regardless where we come from or what we believe in or how we look. It means appreciating each others’ differences and maximising the strengths we each bring to the table.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would you like to tell him?
I would firstly remind the Prime Minister that a good leader listens to, and serves the interests of all his/her people, NOT the interests of a few rich white men; NOT the interests of multinational companies; NOT the interests of other countries. I would tell the PM that the Government as well as the other major political parties are not doing enough to foster an inclusive and just society. The past decade or so has seen incredible encroachments on our civil liberties. People have become increasingly fearful and suspicious of one another. I would ask him to take his party on a boat and re-enact the journey of a refugee, to actually step into a war-torn nation, to do more for the equal treatment of the Indigenous community. I would urge him against commoditising people or measuring the value of a person in monetary terms. Whilst the economy is important, a thriving and harmonious society is also important for the wealth and sustainable future of our nation. Australia has become a nation where the solution to almost everything is either to ‘tax it or ban it’, rather than finding creative and innovative solutions. If he can listen to all that, I promise I will vote for him next time!

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because….”
Feminism does not just relate to gender inequality. It holds that each person should be viewed based on their individual strengths and capabilities as a human being, not the strengths and capabilities assumed of their gender. Feminism intersects with seeking equal treatment for other marginalised groups, for example people with disabilities – women with disabilities have the least access to equal access and treatment.

Feminism is not, and should not be about telling women what to do. It is not about competing with men, or denigrating a religion or culture. It is about giving them the ability and freedom to be able to choose to do whatever they want to do and narrowing the political, economical, educational, familial, cultural, and health gaps and inequalities in society.