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Migrant pioneer tells of battle against domestic violence

Apr 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Diversity, Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

SHE WENT from domestic abuse victim to novelist and leader of a movement, while simultaneously battling dyslexia and raising a young daughter.

And now Farida Sultana can add “author” to her list of accomplishments.

It was something she never believed she was capable of, and it took eight years of tortuous writing to complete her autobiography, Purple Dandelion, which tells her story of survival from Bangladesh to New Zealand.

Purple Dandelion is her life story, from her arranged marriage in Bangladesh to her eventual liberation and the founding of the New Zealand branch of immigrant women’s support group, Shakti.

Originally born in Bangladesh, Ms Sultana lived through domestic violence in Iran and the UK before eventually moving to New Zealand and separating from her husband.

She started the New Zealand chapter of Shakt – which means “sacred force”  or “strength”- after having used the service in the UK.

The service is a women’s refuge tailored to the needs of Muslim and ethnic women.

The UK incarnation of the service started in Edinburgh in 1986, with a mission of providing support to ethnic minority women.

Ms Sultana started the New Zealand chapter of the organisation in 1995, and it has since expanded all over the country, with offices is Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Farida has now taken a step back from direct involvement in Shakti, and is moving on to other projects.

“I do training now. We’re setting up in Dunedin and I’ll be playing some role. I think I’ve contributed my share in New Zealand.

“A lot of young women are coming out of under-age and forced marriage, as well as parental abuse, and finding they are strong.”

She says she has been overjoyed when her message is heard by ethnic communities.

“We have rooms full of boys sitting and listening.  We are making a difference to the next generation. I think more than funding, more than anything else, that’s the momentum it needs.”

Domestic violence rates are very high in New Zealand, with nearly 45,000 family violence incidents recorded in 2008, according to the New Zealand Family Violence Clearing House.

But Shakti believes many incidences of violence within ethnic communities go unreported.

Ms Sultana says any violence against women is wrong.

“It doesn’t matter. Regardless of language, religion and culture, there is a bottom line, and violence against women is a violation.  In some degree, it is changing the cultures they come from, too.”

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says violence in immigrant communities is a concern.

“The stresses of immigration and settlement in a new country can contribute to violence among immigrant communities.”

Mr de Bres says there are both Asian and Pacific organisations that work with migrant communities.

“There is a particular focus on domestic violence in ethnic communities for White Ribbon Day in November, and the Federation of Multicultural Councils is actively supporting it.”

Asked about violence against women, Mr de Bres applauded the work that Shakti has undertaken.

“The simple message has to be that violence against women is not acceptable in any culture, full stop.”

He says there is work to be done to ensure that women trapped in dangerous marriages are aware of their rights, and the availability of help.

A Bangladeshi migrant to New Zealand (who wishes to remain nameless for family reasons) says Shakti provides an invaluable service for migrant communities.

“Shakti understands our needs as Muslims when family life is tough.. They understand how our communities sometimes react.”

She says she stayed with Shakti for a brief period in Auckland while her husband was going through a rough time, and has since returned to him.

“Not everyone in our community approves of what they do, but I think it is a valuable service.”

She says the education arm of the organisation teaches women valuable skills which help them gain independence, such as driving and language courses.

Shakti comes from the Sanskrit word Shak, and is a strong tradition within Hinduism.  Shaktism is a denomination of Hinduism, which worships divine power, and believes that Shakti is the cosmic power behind the universe.

Sacred power is a watchword for the organisation, because Shakti believes it is empowering women who would otherwise be oppressed.

Contact Shakti: For general enquiries/donations
Phone: +64 9 6345427
09 6368514
Fax: +64 9 6369654
Email: scc@shakti.org.nz funding@shakti.org.nz

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is A Journalism Student at Whitireia in Wellington, New Zealand. His specialty areas are digital culture, politics and cyber-crime.
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