Every year, 8 March marks International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.
To mark this day we have interviewed one of our refugee workers, Marzeyah Alikhani, to learn about her journey and determination in striving for a better life for both herself and her family.
Above: Marzeyah with her husband and two children.
Marzeyah was born in Iran and was married at the young age of 14. When her husband’s family decided to move to Afghanistan, she went with them - but upon arrival they soon realised that it was an unsafe place to live.
In Afghanistan, Marzeyah was kept within the confines of her house with her two young children, not only as it was unsafe to leave but because “women are intended to always be doing housework,” says Marzeyah.
During this time Marzeyah was incredibly lonely, and so she took it upon herself to teach her oldest child and her neighbour’s children the basic English that she knew at the time. This gave her great joy in a time of doubt and fear for the future of her family.
As time went on and Afghanistan became more and more unsafe, Marzeyah and her family decided to flee back to Iran, but they had no identification or paperwork - so their move was illegal. Without identification, Marzeyah’s husband couldn’t work without the fear of being caught and sent back to Afghanistan, and her children couldn’t attend school. With the realisation that there was no future for her children in Iran, she pondered the idea of moving to Australia, and this lead to her next move.
In 2010 Marzeyah and her family flew to Indonesia, and then took a boat en route to Australia. This trip was unsuccessful - the boat was caught by Indonesian police, and all those on board were sent to a detention centre within Indonesia. Marzeyah described the detention centre as a horrible experience - the facilities were ‘meagre’ to say the least - and there were many families there like her own, seeking refuge and a positive, safe future.
They spent two weeks in this detention centre, and then Marzeyah and her family escaped and fled to Jakarta. With no money and no means to work, they asked to borrow money from their parents so that they could try their luck for a second time. After six days on a boat, they arrived at Christmas Island where they were placed in another detention centre.
Marzeyah and her family were later transferred to the Inverbrackie detention centre in Adelaide, where they spent the next seven and a half months in detention. During this time she made friends with other families, and when they were finally released in 2011, they all met up in Melbourne.
Striving to achieve
Marzeyah has constantly strived to improve her English throughout her life. She is fluent in Dari and Hazaragi (varieties of the Persian language), and she speaks some Urdu and Arabic.
Since arriving in Melbourne she has completed a Certificate 3 in English, and a Certificate 3, 4, and Diploma in Business Administration. Her high graduating score of 87/100 gave her the opportunity to study a Bachelor of Nursing at Monash University, which she was incredibly proud of – upon receiving the offer, she and her husband cried with joy. Though she has had to defer the offer in order to find work, she said “Australia has given me the opportunity to develop my life.”
Marzeyah searched proactively to find administration work, and in 2013 CatholicCare contacted her with a job opportunity to do casual administration work. She is now working full time and has been with CatholicCare for seven years, giving her the chance to support her family and further her skills.
Her children, aged 18 and 12, are at school and are doing well. Her oldest remembers the journey to Australia and recognises the opportunity that he was given by coming here - “Thank you so much for bringing us here,” he has said to his mum. The English language skills that Marzeyah taught him have helped him integrate into Australian life and have made schooling all the more easier.
After learning about Marzeyah’s journey, we asked her about her thoughts on International Women’s Day:
What do you think about gender equality – do you think women have equal rights to men?
“In my opinion women and men are equal, but unfortunately in our culture and in others, men have more dominance. In saying that, I am very fortunate that I have a good husband.”
Do you think that there is any way that we can empower girls and women?
“I think that we need to give girls and women more opportunity to develop their skills, and show them how they can use their skills and qualifications - because women in my culture may have qualifications but many don’t know how to use them.”
How do you find working at CatholicCare?
“I have beautiful colleagues and I am working with very thoughtful, respectful people. From the heart, everyone at CatholicCare wants to help us [refugees].”
Do you have a message for women out there like yourself?
“We have to use this opportunity in a very good way – other countries don’t have opportunity like what we have here. Happiness is important - if we try from the bottom of our hearts, we can always reach our targets. Please never give up, and please use your opportunity to develop your life.”
Liz Gellel, Communications Coordinator