Making the Links Podcast: Episode 1

Multicultural Centre For Women's Health
Multicultural Centre For Women's Health
Making the Links Podcast: Episode 1


This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you.

People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact

1800RESPECT 1800 737 732, a 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service.  

This podcast is recorded as part of Safer pathways projects in prevention of violence against women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services.

The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder nor of MCWH.

You can read a full transcript of the podcast below


About Zia Ibrahim

Zia came to Australia in 2007 as a 13 year old refugee. Zia went and finished and completed his studies in social work at Flinders University. Zia has worked in refugee settlement and assistance since 2012, first at Migrant Resource Centre and then at Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council. Zia is now working in Sunraysia Community Health as a refugee health access worker, a social worker and a family violence practitioner. Zia is also president of the board for Hazara Community of Mildura, Victoria.

About Vahideh Eisaei

Picture of Vahideh, who has long dark hair

Vahideh Eisaei coordinates Making the Links Project, helping migrants and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing, or at risk of, family and domestic violence or sexual assault, to access support services. Before joining MCWH in 2019, Vahideh has worked in Family Violence Intervention. Vahideh has completed her Bachelor of Music at Tehran University and migrated to Australia in 2008 where she completed her Master of Music. Vahideh speaks Farsi and understand Dari. Vahideh is a Qanun player and has performed with many ensembles throughout Europe, the Middle East and Australia. After finishing her master’s degree, she enjoyed being part of a research project studying children music among new and emerging communities in Perth, Western Australia. Her love of children’s music led her to work with toddlers, preschool and school-age children.

About Making the Links

For migrant women living in regional Victoria, the pathways to family violence-related support can be unclear. Strengthening community knowledge and confidence to use support services in regional Victoria is a two way street.

Making the Links is an innovative and collaborative project to link migrant women living in regional Victoria to mainstream family and domestic violence and sexual assault services by building capacity on both sides.

Read more about the project.


Vahideh: [00:00:00] This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you. People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service. This podcast is recorded as part of several(?) Pathways Project in Prevention of Violence Against Women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services. The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder, nor of MCWH.

[00:00:53] I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I pay my respects to Aboriginal elders past, present and emerging, and I acknowledge that as migrants to this country, we benefit daily from the displacement of Aboriginal people and colonisation of their land.

[00:01:10] Hello, I’m Vahideh from Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, and you’re listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project that aims to help migrant and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing or at risk of family violence and sexual assault to access support services.

[00:01:29] Why do we say migrant and refugee at MCWH? There are lots of times that people use to talk about migrant and refugee communities. At MCWH we use the term migrant and refugee to describe anyone living in Australia who was born overseas or whose parents or grandparents were born overseas in a predominantly non-English speaking country. We say migrant and refugee to highlight the impacts of migration and settlement processes on women’s health and wellbeing. It reminds us that the barriers we face are mostly because of systems and policies, not because of cultures or countries we come from.

[00:02:14] Today in this episode, I will be talking to Zia Ibrahim. Zia came to Australia in 2007 as a 13 year old refugee. Zia went and finished and completed his studies in social work at Flinders University. Zia has worked in refugee settlement and assistance since 2012, first at Migrant Resource Centre and then at Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council. Zia is now working in Sunraysia Community Health as a refugee health access worker, a social worker and a family violence practitioner. Zia is also president of the board for Hazara Community of Mildura, Victoria.

[00:02:57] In this episode, I will be talking to Zia Ibrahim on the importance of engaging faith leaders in prevention and intervention of violence against women. Zia, it’s great having you here in this episode of Making the Links. Thank you for being here. As we know, violence prevention and intervention is more effective through engaging communities and people themselves. For example, in faith communities, key people to talk to about prevention of violence against women are faith leaders. My question to you here is why is it important to engage community leaders or faith leaders? Why is it important for them to understand family violence and the services that women can access?

Zia: [00:03:44] Now we have about 120 cultures residing in harmony in regional area in Mildura, and it could be more. I could be wrong. But so far my understanding was that I think there was information that we had discussion with Mildura City Council, and mayor actually highlighted that there’s about 120 flags at the information centre and they are representing the amount of cultures residing in Mildura area. Now, I only can speak on behalf of the Hazara community which is a minority group of ethnicity, group of Afghanistan where I am actually belonging to. For us, I personally would say it is really vital that we engage especially our community leaders and our faith leaders, to be aware of family violence, you know, understanding what it is and how they can actually support the community as a collective to prevent and stop violence against women and children.

[00:04:48] So I think when I’m talking about faith leaders versus community leaders, my concept is quite different, and lately, since 2016 I believe, there is a lot of reform and restructure of the community leaders has been happening within the Hazara community. I start back in 2007, so back in 2007 there were five Afghan families or Hazara families residing in Mildura, and my family was one of them. So we had a very minority group forming. We didn’t even have religious or faith leaders to really support us with religious or cultural attributions, including, you know, marriage ceremonies or, you know, making it more religiously appropriate marriage. Or when we had a funeral, we had no proper person to conduct the funeral. All of those kind of things. So we didn’t have a faith leading up to 2010, I believe. And the community were actually linking back with the other faith leaders from Melbourne or metropolitan areas, Adelaide and so on, and bringing someone who was specialist in the religion to conduct religious activities and practices.

[00:06:09] So since then, we had elders of the community taking the leadership of the community. To me, that was really vital for the community leaders that are not religious or faith leaders to be more. They had more vital roles playing and influencing the community as a collective. And if there was a family violence incident or family violence issues back then, normally it would have been resolved within the community before the police arrived, which downplays and undermines the authority of the woman and their say in the incident Therefore, it was high risk that the issue was not being resolved, but to the favour of the men it was actually happening. So, rewinding fast forward back in 2016 when new legislation has amended and we seen a reflux of refugees arriving in Mildura and community leaders are stepping down based on the things that they were unable to comprehend or unable to lead the community in a good direction. A lot of community members were actually highly educated with links and services.

[00:07:26] We had about 30 family members, including men and women, actually working in the family violence sectors, working in the health sectors, working in the community and settlement sectors, as bilingual workers and interpreters. And they had to be informed and updated with the knowledge around family violence. Seeing that since 2007, the community leaders haven’t done much for the community, not even supporting community in the establishment of a community centre or hire of a building for the woman to get together to have their AGM or to have their meetings or to have improved their education. The community did not had it. And a lot of people raised the question that what is actually going on? What is these community leaders really doing that is not working for the community’s favour, therefore the organisational structure as a community has changed.

[00:08:26] So now, since 2007, we have leaders in the community that are actually highly aware and educated that takes the leadership of the community. And we have a community leader who is very highly educated as well, that governs in a way that actually employs the faith leader. So faith leader has a special contract to only deliver what they have capacity, but the rest has to be accordingly to the Australian Constitution. So one of the examples I could give is that if a woman is getting married, for example, or if a child is getting married under 18, it becomes suddenly the responsibility of the community leader that has to report to the board that why it is actually happening against the Australian Constitution or Australian traditional law. Why the child is actually underage marriage. So therefore, the community leader, if they hear anything, if they see anything, they have to report to the board. And finally, there has to get approval from the board and plus to the community leader if they are about to conduct the ceremonial of the religious marriage.

Vahideh: [00:09:40] And that’s a great example, because we sometimes hear that some community leaders can be gatekeepers, and by that I mean if the power is in the hands of one person, it might just mean that the information might be transferred in the wrong way. Or people might only have, because the powers in hand of one person, especially women may not be able to safely access services, usually because of patriarchal structures of their communities, committee leaders are men usually. So women cannot access services safely in that case. So with the example that you just gave me, do you think that women now can access services, family violence services more safely because of that board that consists of many people, not just one person or two people?

Zia: [00:10:40] All I could say is that I really hope so. This is just about ideas at the moment, but putting it into implementation is really hard. And one thing that I’m really, really working with the community to host, to have our own designated community centre. In that community centre I’m really, really advocating to be accessible to all, despite the race, gender, culture, religious view, political views and so on. Which means that there is a lot of issues that we’re currently struggling with. One of them is empowering women to learn driving classes and how to learn driving skills. Men working, you know, ten hours and their narrative is that, you know, I am the provider, I am the bringer, I am the protector, which brings a huge responsibility on them in financial capacity and creates a lot of financial dependency of the woman and puts a huge responsibility on the woman with limited English, with no driving licence, how to manage children in terms of transportation, schooling and so many other issues. The community see it as a struggle. The board sees that as a struggle and it undermines the authority of women and does not promote equality. So that’s our biggest concern for now, is about to empower the woman to be able to become more independent.

Vahideh: [00:12:16] We hear that, you know, working with migrant and refugee people and community, it’s best to have a practitioner who is from refugee and migrant background or is working or lives in that specific culture. So in regional areas, you’re saying that that might be actually a barrier because they might know that person and they might be worried about their confidentiality.

Zia: [00:12:46] Yea and just to be worried about being judged. A lady rang me four times and I was like sitting next to my partner and having a pizza together. And I said, I need to call this because it’s been like four times. So when I answer, this lady was crying and asking for help and said, what should I do? Can you go to the station with me and do interpreting for me? You know, the only person that she feels safe with. And I said, I can’t do that unfortunately. That would jeopardise my work that I do with men and plus I’m working and it has to go through my organisation, which is language loop for me to be hired. I can’t just randomly do interpreting. So I need to get paid in a sense. And I said the best way to do is go to the station and ask one of them to contact me straight away and I will get guide them to ring interpreter line and ask for a female interpreter that could be interstate, nothing to do in Mildura regional area, and strictly inform them not to have an interpreter from Mildura area.

[00:14:02] And she followed exactly the same procedure. The police officer rang me and I advised him and they said, yep, we know the procedures, we know the protocol because I already work with Victorian police closely sometimes as part of my work, and they were trained in cultural competency and so on. And they rang and requested an interpreter, but unfortunately, they could not find a female interpreter.

[00:14:27] As long as service are equipped with cultural practices and cultural lens without putting in any bias as that’s concerning and that downplays and undermines the authority of woman seeking for support because the door is basically shut to begin with. A huge barrier is right at the home dynamic. Within home dynamic. The men might be really, really coercive and abusive that this woman may have lost faith in humanity to begin with. This could be, you know, threatening behaviours from the partner saying I will deport you and you’re under a marriage visa or this or that, or all those gaslighting that actually happens. And that is the abusive behaviour the men actually holding against their partners.

[00:15:19] That’s one barrier and the other barrier could be the protective factor, the protective barrier, is that what is going to happen if I leave him? What happens to the children? Is he going to take the children or do I take the children? The woman may not have the right information to begin to act based on this information, may not be having enough information to understand what family violence is really, really about, what really family violence is. And if you do seek support from family violence services or specialist in family violence, then what that support is going to look like – is that an advantage or is it the disadvantage?

[00:16:06] Then we talk about lack of communication, if I am actually able to improve my English, why would I need an interpreter that I cannot trust? That I’m worried about? So, you know, communication becomes a huge issue and it brings a lot of responsibility to the service coordinations. Do you have the right information in the languages? Do you actually have culturally, you know, trained practices? Are you actually a culturally informed service or actually culturally trained to be able to practice and understand the issues of refugees and migrants going through?

Vahideh: [00:16:42] Zia, you talked about women not having enough information about family violence or basically maybe their rights. You gave an example of they will not know if they leave the relationship, will they have the children or the partner will have the children. How do you think is best for services or organisations who have funding or budget to work in prevention of violence to provide this information to women in community?

Zia: [00:17:14] This is another example of it that recently we established our organisation, established head to head program, head to head program is a mental health during covid-19, during this crisis. And the person who is leading it wanted to promote this program and actually asked me how I am actually able to promote my program? I said, 21st of March. Sunday. Me and my community, we are running the Eid celebration, the New Year’s celebration. We have outdoor barbecue, why not you coming? You know I actually introduce you and you talk about your program to the men here, I do the language support and then I will actually ask my partner or someone else from the female perspective and they take you there and you promote your language there to the woman that actually there? So, men and women sit separately because of the religion and the other restrictions that prevents us that we socialise and gather together. So, you know, children going playing soccer or football or whatever, playing around together, woman sitting together, men cooking the barbecues and the kebabs. And we take it to our partners and the woman and they have the kebab and the lecture. And then later on we have. And this person wanted to promote and I said this will be the best opportunity. The other thing is the community functions. If we have a multicultural festival, if we have Eid celebration or Ramadan gathering, refugee helping us do that all the time, they go to the woman when they have women’s gathering.

Vahideh: [00:18:47] Thank you, Zia. You’re listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project.

[00:18:57] You may be aware that, as we know from research, that refugee and migrant women access services at a very late point, and it is also known that women may engage with a family violence service after years of abuse and family violence incidents. So I guess you agree it is very important for practitioners at family violence services to know that they may only have one chance in engaging woman with migrant and refugee background who is seeking help. I really like to know, what are your recommendations for these practitioners? What are some of do’s and don’ts, if you like, if you can give us examples, what should they do? What they shouldn’t do to engage this woman and keep her at the service to be able to help her and support her, to keep her safe?

Zia: [00:19:51] That’s correct. I personally believe around when we all have contracts to sign as a job, what are we actually signing? What are our work at the end of the day that we are achieving? If we are working in family violence and prevention of it, what are we preventing and what we are achieving? Is it the safety of women and children as number one? Is it the men’s responsibility to take ownership of their own abusive behaviours and try to change and stop single that? Yep. If we are upholding those two then, yes, the men has to take full responsibility for their abusive behaviours because they are in power and control. They are the ones that are abusive. So let’s work with that and support the change process. Having that in mind that, you know, we are not undermining the authority of women and supporting them feel safe and respected. What it actually really means by being safe, is it being safe in a refugee accomodation with unemployment, with lack of engagement from the community and feeling shamed and so on? Because we are actually cutting the cord without any oxygen support. Or are we actually addressing the underlying issues and the underlying factors that plays as intersectionality or layers upon layers of issues that this woman is nearly drowning in?

[00:21:26] So really looking at, from a practitioner lens, to see what is this person’s condition, what happens if this person to be removed, for them to be safe and respected? Is it there visa going to be a barrier? Is it their cultural connection and the social dynamic going to be a barrier? Is it going to be shame? Is it going to be reputation or their family members that live in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq and all of those areas are actually being under the thumb of this person? That this partner would actually invest and sell the house but that could be somebody’s reality. This could be reality that this person might come a very important environment and marry this rich men and this rich men could be entitled to own this person’s life. And whose fault is that? Is it the man’s or is it the woman that needs to be removed?

[00:22:22] To me personally, we have to engage the men and really say, hey, that is not really, really the Australian values. Where are you going with this? What do you want to be remembered as a parent, as abusive parent? Or, you know, something really means to you? Those kind of engagement. And really, really sometimes it’s better to live with the perpetrator, but safely having intervention order in place that the men cannot commit family violence. Let them come to a service that they should be informed and talk about what is family violence, family violence is physical abuse, neglect, harm, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse. Or you asking someone else to do it for you? Indirectly, and that is bringing a family member to point a gun to this family of this woman back in overseas, or it could be just threatening them with the financial you know, that if you walk away the next day, how do you sell the house?

[00:23:23] All of those things can play a huge part that the practitioners need to understand the intersectionality that put her more at risk. And we offer them something really, really precious as a practitioner, as we offer them safety and respect. And we ask them to be able to come to us safely. And how we can provide that, how we can provide a safe space for them to be able to talk to us. Communication, whose communication issues are there? You know, this woman could speak four languages, but English may not be the one. And how many practitioners can speak? And I’m not putting this shifting responsibility to woman or shifting responsibility to the man or to the practitioners. But as a collective, as a community, to prevent family violence, we have to work together. It cannot be done on one person. And rather than putting on a blame game that whose fault is that? Let’s identify the gap, identify the issue and resolve the issue that actually promotes safety and respect for the woman and including the children.

Vahideh: [00:24:37] That was great. Thank you, Zia, such a pleasure talking to you and listening to someone who is working closely with migrant and refugee community, especially in regional areas. That’s not an easy job.

Zia: [00:24:50] Thank you. Yes. No, it’s not really. So much issues, so much issues to deal with. But as long as we have our goal in the back of our mind, you know, that today, you know that I do work. I wake up, it is fruitful and promote safety for women and children. I think that would pretty much be it.

Vahideh: [00:25:17] This was presented through Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project coordinated by MCWH and funded by the Australian government’s Department of Social Services.

[00:25:29] People impacted by sexual assault, domestic and family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling and support service.

[00:25:55] For help in your language, contact inTouch at 1800 755 988 or visit They provide legal support no matter what your visa status is. For the men’s referral service call 1300 766 491.

[00:25:55] Lifeline telephone 13 11 14. Service is available 24 hours a day for suicide prevention and crisis support.

[00:26:11] You can also get free translation support through TIS on 131 450 and ask them to call any of these numbers for you.