Q&A with Nemat Kharboutli

DVNSW talks to MWA’s Strategic Support Manager Nemat Kharboutli about domestic violence in the CALD community, MWA’s approach and the fight for gender justice.

How long have you been at MWA and how did you get involved? What made you passionate about wanting to support the women in your community, and what drives you to stay in such a challenging sector?

“I’ve been involved with MWA in various ways since I was a child. I used to attend the youth camps and had a love for the sense of safety to question and be critical; along with the sense of community, belonging and connection I experienced, especially growing up as an outspoken adolescent and Muslim in what was at that time, a post 9/11 world. 

“After some other work experience post university, I came to work professionally with MWA developing a co-case management model for emergency relief services to improve access for Muslim communities. I found a sense of purpose and sincerity I didn’t experience in the government sector. While I stepped away from paid employment for several years to raise my children, I volunteered on the board of MWA for several terms as vice president and secretary. This allowed me to develop a higher level understanding of governance and reaffirmed my commitment to the work of MWA and the communities we support.

“As the Strategic Support Manager at MWA, I’m passionate about governance and supporting women because I’ve been inspired by community leaders such as MWA CEO Maha Abdo, who play such an instrumental role in influencing positive change for young people, women and  families. My father is also a great influence to me. He taught me so much, particularly about the powerful role men can play in supporting women and girls. His generosity and ability to see the humanity in every person no matter their story, has shaped me.

“Domestic and family violence is a huge issue. While safety is paramount, it is also so detrimental to one’s dignity and ability to thrive – to love and experience trust and safety is fundamental. It impacts individuals, children and extended families.”

“Ensuring professional quality service delivery is accessible, culturally, linguistically and religiously appropriate and that meets women where they are, is what drives me. My faith teaches me that ‘actions are by intentions’, this is my tether that no matter the challenges, serving and empowering others, is a trust and responsibility that comes with the blessings of privilege.”

How do you define your community? Is it a language, a religion, a region?

“To me, there isn’t one single definition of community, rather there are many communities. How we categorise them can be based on culture, geography, language spoken, religion, interest or shared experiences. I think understanding shared experience in the context of the individual’s needs and aspirations is so important, no matter how it’s defined. Community should be centred on safety, agency, belonging, connection, and trust and led by that community.

“It’s important to recognise faith communities in developing strategies for equitable and appropriate access. As an Australian Muslim woman, I reflect that faith is a central characteristic in its own right. 

“Australian Muslims come from 183 countries, making them one of the most ethnically and nationally heterogeneous communities in Australia. No matter the cultural background, faith plays a major role in many facets of our lives.  The Muslim community with its diversity, holds faith as the key component to way of life.”

What are the biggest challenges migrant women and women in CALD communities face when trying to leave a domestic violence situation, and how do you support them?

“There are so many issues women face, depending on the specific nature of their circumstances and how these intersect with systemic barriers or inequalities. The best way to support women is to always maintain their dignity, help them to help themselves and to give women choices that are appropriate to them.”

What kind of changes to you want to see in the domestic violence sector for CALD and migrant women experiencing domestic violence?

“I’d like to see improved policy, practice and data collection which centres the need of CALD communities, inclusive of integrated service delivery models. Additionally, I’d like to see better understanding of the formal and informal processes women navigate when accessing DFV support specifically and more generally in dealing with family conflict. 

“I’d like to see better understanding of the ‘double bind’ which is the meeting point between imperialism and gender injustice, in which many racialised groups of women – including Muslim women – frequently find themselves subject to criticism both within and beyond their communities in the fight for gender justice.”

“It saddens me that for 25 years Muslim women were able to access a specialist support service when dealing with DFV and that is no longer available, when the need is greater than ever before. I would like to see another Muslim specialist DFV support service.”

 What are you hoping to achieve with your board position for DVNSW? As a young woman and a young mum, and you’ll bring a fresh new perspective – what kind of impact do you hope to make?

“MWA was a founding member of DVNSW. There is over 30 years of history and experience MWA has been part of throughout the women’s refuge movement. I acknowledge that I stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way. I hope to contribute by ensuring Muslim women’s and CALD women’s views and voices are central to decision making and to learn from sector leaders at the table.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your community and their access to services?

“COVID19 has exacerbated the mental health, economic and social impacts experienced by CALD communities. It significantly impacted women as they managed financial distress, parental stress and caring responsibilities.  At MWA we’ve seen an increase in levels of anxiety, increased referrals and intensified complexities to supporting women and their children as a result of the twin health and economic crises.”


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