Written by Amani Haydar
25 November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). My first active IDEVAW was in 2018 and it has since become a way of re-visiting my priorities as an advocate and sharing what I’ve learned through lived experience.
Why are the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and #16DaysOfActivism significant to me?
IDEVAW is both personal and political. Instances of violence against women have had a profound impact on the course of my life and my sense of wellbeing, safety, and justice as I move through the world. I was a teenager when I lost my maternal grandmother violently. She was killed in an Israeli drone strike on a civilian convoy in south Lebanon in 2006. The incident was investigated by Human Rights Watch as an alleged war crime. As is often the case with state-sanctioned violence, no one has been held accountable and there has been no closure for my mum’s family and the families of the other victims of the same attack.
I have often found that mainstream feminist discourse excludes victims of war and colonisation, even though women in zones of conflict are at an increased risk of everything feminists advocate against. They face sexual violence, domestic violence, poverty and health complications, including increased risks in pregnancy and childbirth. One of my interests and priorities as an advocate has been ensuring that women who have been historically exploited, othered, or neglected are considered within the conversations I am having with other feminists. This does not mean trying to sweep in as saviour, but rather challenging war and other forms of state-sanctioned violence as a function of patriarchy.
I lost my mum to domestic violence in 2015. She was murdered by my father in her home while she was in the process of separating from him. Although the Australian legal system provided a process by which my father could be tried and convicted, a lot was left unacknowledged; the victim-blaming, the stereotyping, and the nuances of my mum’s experiences of emotional and psychological abuse throughout her marriage. Members of my extended family leaned heavily into victim-blaming narratives, which was incredibly disappointing and demonstrates the ways in which abuse is often tacitly endorsed by people who have an interest in protecting themselves or the abuser. In the aftermath, I found myself feeling conflicted about speaking up publicly about what had happened; as a visibly Muslim woman I worried about the racism I would attract in addition to the backlash women already experience when they speak publicly about violence.
But silence in these circumstances is uncomfortable and disempowering. I do not believe that either of these injustices are acceptable or inevitable. Violence is structural and all violence against women sits on a continuum; whether it be human rights abuses endorsed by the state or abuses that play out in interpersonal relationships. Becoming involved and active every #16DaysOfActivism gives me a sense of hope and a way of honouring the women who shaped me – the women I’ve had to grieve. Some of the issues I’ve been highlighting this year are:
- The need for specialised trauma recovery centres such as the one being sought by this campaign;
- How victim-survivor expertise should be accessed ethically to inform every stage of policy and program design;
- The importance of accessible childcare for women escaping violence;
- The ways in which legislative barriers and loopholes can exacerbate barriers including the example I wrote about here; and
- Ways in which we can move beyond tokenism towards lasting systemic change.
Being heard and included in this work has not always been easy but being able to contribute to conversations around women’s health and safety allows me to draw on my personal in order to participate in the political. This work has been transformative and restorative for me and I am keen to see more people becoming allies and committing to change this year.
Amani Haydar is an award-winning artist, lawyer, writer and advocate for women’s health and safety based in Western Sydney. Her debut memoir The Mother Wound (Pan Macmillan) released earlier this year explores the personal and political dimensions of abuse and intergenerational trauma and has recently been longlisted for the 2021 Walkley Book Award. Amani received the 2021 UTS Law Alumni Award and, in 2020, was named NSW Local Woman of The Year for Bankstown in recognition of her advocacy against gender-based violence. Using visual art to tell stories and activate empathy, Amani’s artworks have been featured in several exhibitions and publications including the 2018 Archibald Prize, Sweatshop Women Volume Two, SBS Voices and ABC News Online.