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Women at Work: Maryam Khazaeli

Molly McLaughlin

As a highly educated Iranian migrant woman, Maryam Khazaeli’s life is all about balancing her passions.

Her day job is with the ACT Government, through which she is part of the working group OneCanberra. She also represents Culturally And Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities on the Domestic Violence Prevention Council and has created the CALD Women Domestic Violence Working Group.

“I do 9 to 5 at work and the rest is my personal passions,” she says, “which reflect who I am and where I was born and what actually drives me and wakes me up in the morning.”

When and where Maryam was born has had a huge impact on the course of her life. She grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and came to Australia as an international student. In Iran, she was surrounded by people from many different cultures and backgrounds and learned to value diversity.

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“My dad would take us driving around the country for a month or two over summer,” she explains, “so that was my first introduction to how different cultures are so close to us and those nation-state borders are quite meaningless.”

Unlike the image of Iran often portrayed in the media, Maryam says she was inspired by many strong female role models. Her father was also a huge influence on her life, encouraging her to travel and take new opportunities.

“My dad was a really great, supportive man and he wanted me to go and explore and experience,” she says. “I was always disobeying and rebelling at school, and so many times he came to fix the situation so the school would take me back.”

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In Iran, Maryam studied software engineering and worked with Afghan refugees, as well as pursuing journalism, but decided to go to the UAE to learn Arabic and research female entrepreneurship. Eventually, with the encouragement of her dad, she came to Australia to study at the University of Wollongong.

“I wanted to see what it was like to be in a developed country but I never thought I would end up staying here,” she says. “Within the first two weeks I was in Australia I met the man who is now my husband and that was four years ago!”

In her personal life, Maryam has faced racism and sexism in Australia. In her professional life, she helps migrant women overcome similar barriers to employment and independence.

“Childcare is a major problem,” she says. “Also, if you’re from a migrant background, not having a local referee or work experience can mean you struggle to get your foot in the door and a lot of women are worried about their appearance and cultural practise being accepted at work.”

Maryam is especially focussed on violence prevention through improving gender inequality, and has seen a shift in the conversation around domestic violence, especially in CALD communities, in the past year, as more women are open to discussing violence and coercive and controlling behaviours.

“It’s a work in progress,” she says. “We need some innovative strategies to work with these individual communities while there is the interest from women who want to talk about it.”

Evidently Maryam is impossibly busy, but somehow she also finds time to write and also teach Farsi to English speakers. It is obvious that all aspects of her life are informed by her desire to support migrant women and prevent violence.

“It’s amazing how whatever has happened to me has been leading me to what I’ve always imagined and where I’ve always wanted to be,” she says.

“I sometimes get tired, but I have a supportive partner and I have a supportive workplace. When you see the change in people’s lives, that drives you. Sometimes people from the community call me to interpret letters for them. It is very little things that make a difference to peoples’ experiences.”

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Molly McLaughlin

Molly McLaughlin is new to Canberra and is attempting to prove to her friends that the capital city can be cool. This mostly involves frequently going out for brunch and then posting about it on social media, along with trekking up hills and around art galleries. She is half way through her uni degree but spends most of her time reading, writing and planning her next adventure. More about the Author

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