Panellists Bobby Lama and Ozge Sevindik-Alkan spoke of their experiences on becoming leaders in their communities at the City of Whittlesea’s International Women’s Day event – Women of Whittlesea.

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By Pam Kiriakidis

Guest speakers Bobby Lama and Ozge Sevindik-Alkan provided inspirational leadership stories at a City of Whittlesea International Women’s Day breakfast last week.

Kim Stadtmiller, from the Hume Whittlesea Local Learning and Employment Network, hosted the breakfast at City of Whittlesea’s Great Hall on Wednesday, where women of the region shared their leadership stories.

Arriving from Nepal in 2007, Ms Lama and a few friends created the Band of Women in Action Group in 2019 to support young mothers and women with a Nepalese background in the northern suburbs.

The group continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, with welfare checks, Zumba exercise sessions, and training from the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health to discuss serious issues affecting their community.

“We used to talk about different topics like raising children, mental health, all these biases and what were the challenges … especially during the lockdowns” Ms Lama said.

“Every month we were attending the sessions … about mental health, about family and domestic violence, things that were not discussed or talked about before and I think after that, we built that connection with each other.”

Ms Lama said the group focused on empowering women to adopt different skills and knowledge through programs the women felt was needed.

“I think everyone wanted that safe space and I feel like a woman can understand another woman,” she said.

Speaking about her own experiences at the International Women’s Day event, Ms Sevindik-Alkan, a writer, was told she was not allowed to wear a headscarf when she attended school in Turkey.

After leaving her life behind for America at 13, Ms Sevindik-Alkan is inspiring Australian Muslim writers through her group organisation, The Right Pen Collective, which hosted an online Australian Muslim Writers Festival in 2021.

Ms Sevindik-Alkan, who directed the event, said the festival provided a platform to other Australian Muslim female writers.

“People write about us, rather than talking about us, but there’s so many excellent Muslim writers, especially female Muslim writers that are coming through the ranks who are absolutely killing it in the awards and recognition,” she said.

“I wanted to amplify their voices [and the] first time the poster went out, I literally got messages from people double checking [if it was for] real life.”

Ms Sevindik-Alkan co-authored the two Hijabi Girl junior fiction series that was featured at the Booklovers Festival at Lalor Yarra Plenty Regional Library in 2022.

Ms Sevindik-Alkan said she was proud she had contributed to such an inclusive event.

“It wasn’t just Muslim kids, it was all the other kids as well that saw these Muslim women as authors [presenting] workshops or sort of shifting the narrative about what a Muslim woman can look like or do,” she said.

Ms Sevindik-Alkan said being a guest speaker at an International Women’s Day event was a reminder to other women they were not alone with their own situations.

“You think you’re the only one going through these things, you think you’re the only one that’s burning out,” she said.

“Meeting other women who are going through the same similar things, and they are going ‘yes, this is hard, but this is so worth it’, it’s just life affirming.”

The City of Whittlesea event concluded with a traditional dance performed by Wurundjeri women’s dance group, Djirri Djirri.