Fatima Payman, Australia’s first hijab-wearing senator making history
Fatima Payman has made history after becoming the first Afghan-Australian hijab-wearing senator as well as being the youngest member of the Australian parliament. She was elected to the Senate for Western Australia in the Australian Federal Elections on 20th June.
Senator Payman, aged 27 arrived in Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan as a child with her parents and three siblings, before growing up in Perth's northern suburbs in Western Australia. She used her first speech to share her family's story of fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan, and later migrating and settling in Australia.
Here is a segment of Senator Payman’s first speech which she delivered to the parliament:
Senator Payman (Western Australia) (17:23): I rise to present my first speech—finally! I begin with the universal Islamic greeting of Assalaamu Alaykum, which translates to: may peace be upon you all. I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri elders and knowledge holders who have paved the way for those here now, those following proudly in their footsteps and those yet to come as custodians and owners of the country. I would also like to acknowledge Whadjuk country as my home base where I live, care for and maintain continuing reciprocal relationships with all who share this land. Sovereignty has never been ceded. These always were and always will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands. President, and fellow senators: I stand before you tonight as a young woman, as a Western Australian, as a Muslim devout to her faith, proud of her heritage and grateful to this beautiful country. It is a country that offers so much to so many. People travel from all parts of the world in the hope of calling Australia home. My family and I also had that hope. On a cold winter evening, 8,852 kilometres away from Perth, I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1995 as the first child of a young couple thrilled at the prospect of what the future held for their little bundle of joy. That excitement did not last longer than a year, followed by the collapse of Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban. With no hope in sight, my parents had to make the tough decision of fleeing to Pakistan with my newborn sister and me. Resettling was difficult, but not as difficult as what my mother was about to urge my father to consider—to migrate to Australia.
In 1999 my late father risked his life and left his family behind to traverse the Indian Ocean for 11 days and 11 nights on a small boat in stormy weather, in the hope of finding safety and security for his wife, two daughters and a son on his way. Anxiety and ways of doubt flooded my mother's thoughts as she waited and waited for any news of my father arriving safely in Australia. Four months later, we finally received the good news, and from there on for four years, my father worked around the clock as a kitchen hand, a security guard and a taxi driver while learning English as a second language and saving up enough money to sponsor my mother, my two siblings and me.
In 2003, we were finally reunited with my father and settled in the northern suburbs of Perth to begin our new life together. As we adjusted and adapted, I witnessed my parents' struggles to put food on the table, pay for our education and provide a roof over our heads. As it does for many hardworking Australians, this came as second nature to my parents, who just wanted the best future for their children. From discrimination and abuse to job insecurity and low wages, my father endured those hardships without complaining or seeking compensation, and when my youngest brother started kindergarten, that's when my mother embarked on a journey to start her own small business, a driving school to empower other women. Despite the unfamiliarity of the venture, my mother strived to alleviate the financial burden on my father to make ends meet. You see, my parents always encouraged us—encouraged my siblings and me—to aspire to greatness, to study hard, get a secure job and be a respectable member of society, to always stay true to your roots and to stay humble, to praise God and be grateful for his bounties, to be generous with our wealth and time towards those who are less fortunate.
However, life took a bitter turn when my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2017. He went through 11 months of intense chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and endless cycles of medications, but his health continued to deplete. My once fit, independent and healthy father became frail and weak and required assistance to move around. Despite this, my father was still the strongest man I have ever known. Losing him at the age of 47 was the most difficult reality of life I've had to face. He may have passed on, but his memories and teachings will forever remain, like 'little drops make a mighty ocean, or 'there is no substitute for hard work, or 'learn good manners from those who don't have them, or 'seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Life is short and very unpredictable, so we cannot take even a moment for granted. I have realised that in order to live a productive and impactful life and contribute towards my father's legacy I must seize every opportunity that comes my way. Carpe diem! That is easier said than done, however, life has its own way of throwing figurative punches.
The onus is on us to see every challenge as an opportunity, as a chance to grow, as a lesson to learn and as a part of life. When my attempts to study medicine were not successful, I took my late father's advice to pursue pharmacy, with the perception that the medical field was the only way to serve humanity. Cruising in my own world of endeavours, I stumbled upon my first experience of being made to feel like the 'other' at a university tutorial, when a young man ridiculed my hijab. You see, I never felt different growing up. Perth felt like home from the get-go because home is where the heart is and my heart was with my family, so I didn't feel different or strange. I felt like any other Aussie kid growing up in the northern suburbs of Perth, catching public transport to university and hoping to become a productive member of society.I will finish by sharing the poem 'Bani Adam' by Saadi Shirazi, which translates as 'Children of Adam', a truly timeless piece that my late father would always recite to me in Dari.
Senator Payman then spoke in Dari —
It translates to:
Human beings are members of a whole
In creation of one essence and soul
If one member is afflicted with pain
Other members uneasy will remain
If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain
I thank the Senate.