Seema Abdullah: It’s time to break down the bias

Seema AbdullahSeema Abdullah is the first Pakistani-born Muslim migrant woman councillor and is a former mayor of City of Greater Shepparton. She has been a Charter Champion of the Greater Shepparton Women’s Charter Advisory Committee. Seema Abdulla writes on the importance of International Women’s Day, and why the work of women must be acknowledged.

I am a daughter, mother of a daughter and wife.

I am a woman of Pakistani origin (the country that stands at 153rd out of 156 countries on the Gender Equality Index).

I am a woman immigrant in Australia, a former mayor, a salaried professional who has lived on three continents.

These roles make me a non-academic expert to speak on gender biases that construct barriers to justify discrimination of various forms.

As I ponder the 2022 International Women’s Day theme, ‘Breaking the Bias’, I cannot help but reflect on the broad spectrum of prejudices women face globally in their journey towards self-actualisation.

Many challenges and confronting encounters can impede a woman’s dream of accessing opportunities and attaining success in their respective fields.

I often ask myself whether all women have the liberty and courage to dream what is not sanctioned by society, culture and legislation.

Additionally, what is the reality of women’s success and empowerment?

I have started to believe that for us women, celebrating International Women’s Day and Gender Equality should be more than just about ‘looking at the successes I have achieved as a woman.’ The success of women as individuals does not necessarily benefit the collective cause of GE by providing a level playing field to other women.

International Women’s Day must be celebrated, and the achievements of women must be acknowledged. However, there is a definite need to ask ourselves, do we really empower others? The need to go beyond the mere success of the transfer of power from one gender to another must be examined in private conversations and at the public policy level.

Dreaming big, having an ambition, chalking out a plan to achieve big goals and then demonstrating the courage to embark upon this journey are necessary prerequisites for working towards one’s dreams, and are equally applicable to all genders.

The troubling issue for women is that having done the due diligence and readiness assessment for themselves to kick start the journey, a question often posed by other women is, `Do you think it’s the right time to make this big move?’

Many celebrated women are often found telling other aspiring women that they think it is not the right time for them to be making this ‘big move’ for reasons X Y or Z.


Seema Abdullah
Councillor Seema Abdullah during her time as Mayor of Greater Shepparton.

Putting limits on their ambitions can make women sceptical of their potential and aspirations. The stereotypes about women’s capabilities, misogyny and male privileges are already enough barriers against women having a level playing field in reaching their full potential.

When a woman consciously decides not to be deterred, the last thing she needs to hear is from other women that ‘it is not a good time’ for her to accept this challenge and make her dream a reality.

It is ironic that women who have one set of ideologies in their pursuit of higher goals in life can have an entirely opposite set of ideas for other women. “I am ready for the role and I have to throw my hat in the ring now because there will never be a right time if I ask others” is a woman’s most heartening and hopeful assertion. Surely this deserves not only a round of applause but all practical support.

We must be the enabler and cheerleaders for women looking up to us for inspiration and the reassurance that they can indeed “do it”.

In the same vein, one more aspect deserves to be highlighted.

The road towards women’s self-empowerment and development is paved with many barriers and conscious and unconscious biases. Migrant and culturally diverse women, stepping into civic and political leadership, have another set of biases to break. This is to prove to others, including women, that they are ‘committed’ enough to their communities or are Australian enough to be considered worthy of unconditional support.

Unfortunately, this is a question that many migrant women (from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse – CALD – backgrounds) get asked. One wonders, then, where is the common bond of womanhood that encourages other women and women from CALD backgrounds in their quest for empowerment and achieving their dreams?

Where is the selfless approach that helps create environments that routinely and inevitably support women in realising their potential? It is vital that once women have achieved power balance, the next question should be, what have these successful women done for other women to succeed in their goals and progress the cause of GE with that power?

Beating the drum about women supporting women is one thing, but extending that support to other women in their journey is the real gain.

The Gender Equality agenda must include for successful women to have a big heart to let others shine.

Those accomplished women must share with other aspiring women, including women from diverse backgrounds, the opportunities to grow their confidence and leadership skills instead of shutting the doors for women next in line.


Seema Abdullah
Cr Seema Abdullah – Greater Shepparton City Council

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The views expressed here are her own and do not represent the views of the Greater Shepparton City Council.




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