Around 200 people turned out for the Canberra Tamil Women’s Forum’s (CTWF) third annual Vasantha Maalai event which this year shone a light on domestic violence.
The annual event also acted as a belated celebration for international women’s day and the group’s fifth anniversary, with dance, music and trivia to lighten the mood.
However each year, a taboo topic such as COVID vaccinations, mental health and this year, domestic violence, has also been chosen to highlight to the attendees.
Forum president Karthika Srinivaasan said she wanted to raise awareness about support services available to women experiencing domestic violence.
“[Domestic violence] is unspoken and unnoticed by communities, not only in one community, but in general in the ACT,” she said.
“It’s happening but people aren’t ready to talk about it with their friends or families. They might be scared of judgement.
“200 people came but if 10 people or 20 people got the information, that is success, that’s what we wanted.”
The event featured several expert guests, including Karinya House CEO Lavinia Tyrrel, former Menslink CEO and Human Rights Commission senior director Martin Fisk OAM, Canberra Tamil Association president Dr Jeya Jeyasingham, Australian Tamil Cultural Society vice president Ragini Santhanam and SiTara’s Story co-founder and 2023 ACT local hero Dr Shamaruh Mirza.
Dr Mirza, who was the keynote speaker, said events like these provide a platform for women from multicultural backgrounds to find their voices and discuss issues impacting their lives.
“These women do suffer from stigma. They don’t want to talk about issues that might be causing them trouble. Domestic violence is one of them,” she said.
“Because sometimes these women, for cultural or any other reasons, in the first place do not understand what is domestic violence.
“It is not always physical violence, it can be psychological, it can be financial.”
Dr Mirza said having a conversation about domestic violence was the first step to breaking the stigma which was stopping women from seeking help.
“We got many questions from the audience and not only that, after the panel discussion when we were having dinner, people were just approaching me and asking me questions,” she said.
“And there were a couple of people who told me, ‘Your talk was really good because I could relate to your story … you experienced the same struggles when you migrated to this country.’
“That does tell you that it’s making an impact. People are taking the first step.”
Originally from Bangladesh, Dr Mirza co-founded SiTara’s Story in 2017 to give women from diverse backgrounds a safe space to discuss their challenges and empower themselves.
The volunteer-run not-for-profit also hosts skill development events and has written policy discussion papers about tailoring support services to multicultural communities.
Ms Srinivaasan founded Canberra Tamil Women’s Forum in 2019 with a similar purpose, but specifically to support women from South Asian backgrounds like herself.
“I’m a single parent. When I came here, I struggled a lot because I grew up in a big family … but after I moved here I felt lonely for many years,” she said.
“Finding a play group for my kids, applying for schools and even to take the bus from my house to the town centre … I struggled a lot.
“So my personal life informed [my desire to] always want to do something for the women.”
The group has grown to around 100 women and runs everything from information sessions about women’s health issues to sporting activities, such as netball.
Ms Srinivaasan said she wanted the group to continue to grow and had a message for any women from South Asian backgrounds living in Canberra:
“You need to look after yourself. You need time for yourself. Just come out and we can have fun.”