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Both actions and words needed to tackle domestic violence

Opinion

On White Ribbon Day, Arman Abrahimzadeh tells how the murder of his mother by his father drove him to act and campaign against domestic violence, and why others should stand up.

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The Adelaide Convention Centre is an iconic building that sits on the city’s Riverbank. With its striking architectural features and unique facade, it is hard to overlook. Yet, for four years, I intentionally turned my gaze from it whenever I walked or drove by.

This was the place that my mother, Zahra spent the last moments of her life, celebrating her 44th birthday and the Persian new year on 21st March 2010.

She was surrounded by 300 community members – among them were friends and eldest daughter Atena. Little did she know that her estranged husband, my father, had planned to kill her that night.

More than four years after my mother’s brutal murder, on the 25th November 2014, I summoned up the courage to attend the White Ribbon Day breakfast hosted at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Alongside almost 1,000 people I listened to former Australian Chief of Army, Lt General David Morrison, deliver a powerful speech about the role men play in preventing family and domestic violence.

Motivated by his message, after the breakfast, I visited the function room and the approximate spot where I remember seeing my mother’s body, lying lifeless in a pool of her own blood, an image that still haunts me today.

Still though, I asked myself: “what was my role in this space”? I am not a domestic violence expert, I barely understood the laws surrounding this issue and at the end of the day I was, or at least felt like, a frustrated victim who was trying to make sense of the tragedy and navigate the system to create positive change.

Throughout my life I have always tried to be a man of my word and live by the values I was taught at a young age by both parents. One of those principles was to act upon what I said.

So I started getting involved with local charities. I joined the Adelaide White Ribbon Breakfast Committee which organised Australia’s biggest White Ribbon breakfast, distributing profits to grassroots organisations that worked to prevent violence against women.

There was also my local Rotary club – volunteering at Bunnings sausage sizzles and other community events where we raised funds for various causes or charities.

Working alongside these Rotary members, all men over 50, I talked often about domestic violence. To their credit, they listened and developed a good understanding of the topic.

The more I talked, the more I realised I couldn’t stay silent or stay on the sidelines and watch the domestic violence sector go at it alone.

Being a bystander was not an option. I needed to act upon what I said.

I had to work actively to help victims, to lobby for change of policies and legislation and to encourage a change in behaviour and attitude to prevent family and domestic violence from happening.

My family and I were assisted by a domestic violence service (now known as Women’s Safety Services SA) when my mum was alive. After mum’s death we developed a close relationship with this service and in early 2015 that we decided to establish a foundation in honour of and named after my mum. It would focus on economically empowering women who had fled abusive homes.

In September 2015, we officially (and very deliberately) launched the Zahra Foundation at the Adelaide Convention Centre, where the tragedy took place. With my two sisters, we finally did it, we reclaimed the space and the building where this horrible chapter of our lives had begun five years earlier.

Now, another five years on, the Zahra Foundation has helped hundreds of women gain control of their finances and their lives. Through our financial literacy programs, one-on-one financial counselling service and our grant scheme, Opportunity Knox, we have assisted women to start a life without fear and abuse and for those with kids, we have broken the cycle of violence.

But we weren’t alone in this journey. The Board of the Zahra Foundation, staff and volunteers, corporate sponsors and like-minded community organisations each played a critical role and without them, the Zahra Foundation simply wouldn’t be where it is today.

Every single person made an important decision and that was to help make a difference. They decided to not just talk about family and domestic violence but to do something about it.

In the words of ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu – your thoughts become your words and your words become your actions.

This is what we need more than ever; active bystanders who are willing to stand for what they believe in and take action.

Arman Abrahimzadeh OAM is a co-founder of Zahra Foundation Australia and an Adelaide City Councillor. For domestic violence assistance, phone 1800 RESPECT. For men’s counselling, phone Mens Line 1300 789 978

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