Maha Krayem Abdo OAM
Featured image: Photograph of Maha Krayem Abdo OAM
Imagine you are a gardener, and you love spring. You are sowing the seeds to enjoy your garden in spring and maybe summer. You select the right seed and plant that can give you that satisfaction when the right season comes. But we also know we have autumn and winter, so we have to plan how and when to use different seeds and plants for a different purpose.
Muslim Women Australia (MWA) is that garden, and I am bestowed and entrusted with a position of the gardener by my seniors. Together we plan, develop and implement the ways we can make a difference, just like how gardeners plan for different seasons.
Together we are making a garden where people who want to enjoy peaceful retreat visit us, those who want a safe space visit us, those need some shade that can take their mind off the heat of stressful life visit us.
Since its establishment in 1983, MWA has led the way in centring the needs of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and faith-based communities, advocating for holistic, culturally and religiously competent, community led and trauma-informed practice. In working towards a domestic and family violence (DFV) free Australia, MWA’s highly experienced and professional staff, highlight the healing and therapeutic nature of utilising faith as a tool for empowerment, with a client-centred focus to maintain a client’s dignity at every stage of support.
Early on in the work of MWA, it was identified that while support and counselling could be provided to women and their children dealing with DFV, the issue of accommodation needed a more permanent solution. Thus in 1988 the first ever Muslim women refuge was established, the Muslim Women’s Support Centre (MWSC), which operated for over 25 years.
This unique service was the first of its kind to be set up in Australia that catered specifically to the cultural and religious needs of Australian Muslim Women. The Centre provided clients with crisis accommodation, support to women and children escaping domestic violence, experiencing homelessness, marital disharmony, financial and other hardships.
It gave women the autonomy to choose how to deal with their issues, by facilitating safe and neutral spaces for mediation and family restoration, where there was no continued risk of physical harm; as well as to provide a service that was culturally and religiously inclusive.
MWA made a conscious decision to deal with DFV effectively by involving the whole community.
A collaborative coordinated community approach to dealing with DFV was developed.
The main focus of the MWSC was with providing women with choices and in empowering them with information and skills to enable them to make decisions. Muslim women had no access to appropriately tailored services which took into account their religious and cultural needs. They were now being provided with choices and options from which to make a decision which responded to needs appropriately, not what someone else perceived their needs to be.
An integrated, holistic co-case management model was developed throughout the 25 years of operation. MWSC established collaborative partnerships with the police, the local courts, government departments, local hospitals, schools and other DFV service providers as part of ongoing improvement processes to streamline referral processes and to facilitate better access.
After 25 years of operation, the changes from the NSW Government State Reforms saw an end to the MWSC as a specialist homelessness service. However, the best practice model used throughout its operation, its foundational principles and the sincerity and integrity of the experienced caseworkers for over two decades made an impact across the sector.
MWA’s Linking Hearts Multicultural Family Violence and Homelessness Support Service is an actualisation and continuation of this history. When we connect heart to heart, and deal with causes, not just symptoms, real healing, connection and understanding can happen.
Sowing Seeds of Hope
Learning, understanding, and acknowledging the personal experiences of women informs a people-centred program design by bringing awareness of the impact of trauma as well as the complex paths to healing and recovery.
Therefore, our contribution to knowledge is an elaborative explanation of using culturally and religiously informed faith-based practice using trauma-informed expertise and experience.
We cannot change the past, but we can certainly change the present for the future, and to do that we need to come together, we need to sincerely gather to recognize there needs to be healing.
By enabling change to take place in all aspects of our lives, where hope is embedded in our framework, in our interaction with one another and most importantly, in the sector itself, through reforms, regulations, beginning the change within the sector, by the sector, for the health and wellbeing of women, children and society at large.
We must begin from a place of sincerity, translating into words, then into action, while recognising the importance of transformation, just like the varying blooms of the garden. We allow people to evolve in their own colours and ways, supporting people to be who they are.
Without healing, there is no hope. If we continue to sow the seeds of hope, they will be passed on and allow for growth and healing.
The garden shows us that hope is clear, knowing that together we will walk the path of healing, with the hope of change taking place.
We are all gardeners, aiming to grow, and showing that an individual is part of the community. Just like the garden itself, the different parts interact with one another. The individual as part of the community demonstrates that we rely on each other, for certainty, in being safe.
For change is real, and reality is hope, and hope in uncertainty creates that change that we all look for.
Maha Krayem Abdo OAM is a passionate advocate for social justice and uses the common language of faith to bring healing and hope to people of all backgrounds. She serves as the CEO of Muslim Women Australia (MWA), a representative body for Muslim women working to enrich humanity, advocating for equality and the rights of all women, through authentic leadership based on Islamic principles.