motorcycle parts, soccer balls and jars of Nutella adorn the walls at Criniti’s
in Parramatta, in Sydney’s west.
groups gather there to drink and eat pizza by the meter.
Saturday morning in February two years ago, two Muslim women sit quietly over
brunch and share their relationship troubles. Kondkhar Fariha Elahi, 29, is
from Bangladesh; her friend, Benazir Mesbah, is from Afghanistan.
husband has recently returned to Sydney from Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. He
spent almost three months there in the hope that when he returned she would
have changed her mind about wanting to leave the marriage — but if anything,
the time apart has made her more desperate to leave.
also in an unhappy relationship. The women talk about renting a place together
and starting new chapters in their lives. They flick through real estate
listings for two-bedroom apartments in the nearby suburbs of Northmead and
Mesbah she wants to travel to Europe. She has never been anywhere outside
Bangladesh and Australia, and wants a chance to see the world.
night, her dreams would be snuffed out by the man who promised to love and
protect her, Shahab Ahmed. An autopsy revealed 14 stab wounds to her neck,
back, cheek and chest. Elahi was known to her family as “Jyoti” — “light” in
towering, heavyset 33-year-old Ahmed had stabbed her repeatedly until he broke
the tip of the knife between her two front teeth. Then he waited 10 minutes; he
smoked a few cigarettes and updated his Facebook status to “THE END”. Next, he
logged into his wife’s account, replacing her profile photograph with an image
of the couple in happier times. In it, she is smiling and Ahmed stands behind
her with his chin resting on her shoulder, her arm slung around his neck.
9.48pm, when he was sure Elahi had stopped breathing, he called triple-0. He
told the operator he had killed his wife, and that she was dead.
been a “love” marriage. Elahi had defied her parents’ wishes by marrying her
middle-class Bangladeshis, had wanted to arrange a marriage for the eldest of
their two daughters, to someone who was already set up with a job and a home.
September 2011, Elahi and Ahmed tied the knot. Soon after, the couple moved to
Sydney so she could undertake a master of applied finance at the University of
years later, on the night of February 18, 2017, Mesbah realised something was
up when she flicked through Facebook and noticed Elahi’s profile picture had
She sent a
WhatsApp message to warn her that Ahmed may have hacked into her Facebook
heard back. But it was midnight, so she rolled over and went to sleep.
sentenced on May 30 for Elahi’s murder. He will spend at least 20 years behind
said the sentence was aimed not only at punishing Ahmed and protecting the
community but at deterring others from acting on “feelings of possession and
jealousy, from pursuing domestic violence against those with whom they share a
home … with weapons ready to hand, such as kitchen knives”.
are dissatisfied with a spouse or partner’s desire to leave the relationship,
must be dissuaded from so arming themselves and acting upon the impulse to
kill, which such a desire may generate,” the judge said.
because in the society of which we are all members, none of us is at liberty to
act on such dreadful impulses, no matter how angry or wronged we may feel by
the conduct of those with whom we have been involved in intimate
two weeks before the sentence was delivered, Egyptian-born mother-of-three
Gihan Kerollos was stabbed to death as she was leaving work at the Prince of
Wales Hospital in Randwick, in Sydney’s east. She was 47.
colleagues lay red roses at a vigil in Randwick on June 14 to commemorate her
life. Her husband Mourad, 60, has been charged with her murder and will face
court on Thursday. The circumstances of her death are not clear and it will be
up to the court to determine what happened.
to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women Australia research, Kerollos was the
20th woman killed this year.
of NSW’s Patricia Cullen, who is reviewing family and intimate partner homicide
cases in NSW, says her research suggests women born outside Australia are
over-represented in murders by intimate partners or family members.
need to look more closely at strengthening service responses across several
sectors including justice, legal, health and social services,” Dr Cullen says.
Violence NSW chief executive Moo Baulch says there is no evidence to suggest
family violence is more prevalent in any particular community; the problem
affects women of all ages, socio-economic groups and cultures. “It’s not that
men in migrant communities are any more violent; it’s that women in those
communities face more barriers to leaving … and that’s why we need specialist
responses,” she says.
Murdolo, executive director of Melbourne’s Multicultural Centre for Women’s
Health, says research shows that migrant and refugee women access family
violence services at a much later stage than other women.
are multiple: a lack of knowledge about available services or what behaviours
are outlawed in Australia, a lack of support networks and language barriers can
all make it hard for women to leave or seek the help they need. Women on
temporary visas can also fear deportation or find it more difficult to access
income support or public housing or may not be allowed to seek employment.
been asking Ahmed for a divorce for two years, but each time she broached the
topic, she felt forced to stay.
occasion, he picked up a knife and threatened to slit his wrists. Another time,
he punched a wall and fractured his hand while the couple were arguing. Then he
had a tumour that had to be removed, and she nursed him back to health.
Elahi felt pressure from her parents to work on her marriage and feared divorce
would bring shame on her family. She had chosen this man against their wishes
and now she could not expect their encouragement to leave him.
funny, because she’s from a moderate family,” Mesbah says. “Unfortunately, you
can be as modern as possible but in the back of your mind you still have that
cultural pressure … That makes it so hard for women like Fariha: they have
their family on their back, they have the husband who doesn’t want to leave,
for them to seek a divorce is super hard to do.”
that among close-knit communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other
countries from her region, there can be a strong stigma attached to divorce.
Some women leave but then find their invitations to weddings and parties dry
up. One friend was called a “whore” behind her back after she left an unhappy
marriage and then found new love.
get shunned like that it’s hard to deal with,” she says.
the husbands of some of her Afghan friends do not approve of their wives visiting
her home because she is a single woman, living alone.
Haydar knows the lasting impact of family violence.
Salwa was murdered in front of her younger sister Ola in 2015. Her father
Haydar Haydar is serving a minimum of 18 years for the crime.
Elahi, had made it clear several times that she wanted a divorce. Haydar had
said he would not agree to a divorce until his two youngest daughters were
married, because he knew “how society viewed a divorced woman raising single
Haydar returned to his home country, Lebanon, when his wife insisted the
marriage was over. He became convinced she was having an affair, although she
The day he
returned to Sydney from Lebanon, the pair argued; Salwa asked him to fetch some
cooking oil and he refused.
a 21cm knife with an orange handle to stab his wife 30 times, also wounding Ola
as she tried to throw her body between her parents.
wishes people understood how unhealthy it is to be trapped in a toxic or
some religious organisations are educating women that divorce is Islamically
sanctioned and that it’s OK to seek help.
“A fear of
being rejected by your community is a very powerful fear,” she says.
was more accepted then I think that would be something my mother might have
considered sooner or taken a step towards at an earlier stage and I think it
does remain one of the barriers that women face.”
time Amani saw her mum, they caught up over coffee and sweets at Abla’s, a
popular Lebanese pastry shop in Granville, not far from Parramatta.
pregnant with her first child, and they discussed her plans for the baby room.
Salwa loved nothing more than to redecorate.
eldest of Salwa’s three daughters recreates her mother’s face in exquisite
artworks; expresses her grief in cobalt-blue tears. She also talks to
schoolchildren about controlling behaviour, which may not readily be
identifiable as violence, but can raise red flags: partners who constantly
check your whereabouts, put you down, or isolate you from friends and family.
assume there is a gradual escalation of violence that leads to murder, this is
often not the case, she says.
not necessarily resort to physical violence until those other forms of
coercion stop working,” Amani says. “That’s why there can be such a dramatic
switch from emotional abuse to fatal violence.”
energetic and creative. Although she had four children, she completed several
courses and worked in drug and alcohol counselling. At the time she was
murdered, she was studying social work at the University of Western Sydney.
that, growing up, she would have described her parents’ marriage as “unhappy”;
she did not have the language of abuse. But her mother, because of her
training, identified her husband’s behaviour as “gaslighting” — he belittled
her, undermined her confidence and self-belief.
always felt that there was nothing she could do that would actually make my dad
praise her or feel proud of her,” Amani says.
18 when she married Haydar, who was 13 years older, and had her first child at
19. Early marriage is not inherently “toxic”, Amani says, but can increase a
woman’s vulnerability; it can contribute to a power imbalance and mean a woman
is less likely to be set up in a career, with financial independence.
schoolchildren about domestic violence pulls the scabs from Amani’s heart,
leaving her grief exposed — but also makes her feel empowered. She’s terrified
of having to explain her mother’s absence to her children, now three and two,
when they are older.
hard to accept that a person who was a huge part of your everyday life is
gone,” she says. “But I don’t feel she’s completely gone. Through the work I do
I’m really involved in reviving her memory … to effect positive change.”
large but quietly spoken and painfully shy. His wife was tiny, with a beautiful
smile that drew people towards her.
first met the couple when they moved into her apartment at Rydalmere, shortly
after they arrived in Australia. She says there was no physical violence but
Ahmed was controlling.
couple first arrived, Elahi was studying and working on her feet at a takeaway
chicken shop, Oporto, to try to make ends meet. She later found a job at iiNet,
before landing a job as an analyst for the National Broadband Network. Ahmed,
on the other hand, at first struggled to hold down a job, then found work at
the Arts Hotel in Paddington, sitting at the reception desk. He had failed to
convert his Bangladeshi driver’s licence to an Australian licence, instead
relying on Elahi to drive him. At the end of the day, Elahi would massage his
feet. If he wanted a snack in the middle of the night, she would get up to
prepare it for him.
“It made me
so mad,” Mesbah says. “I used to say, ‘you’re the one who went to uni, who
cooked, he should be rubbing your feet. She used to say, ‘it’s OK, he’s tired’
… She was too sweet and too kind.”
the couple had problems in their marriage. Elahi thought Ahmed was lazy.
Elahi’s father to come to Sydney to help the couple sort out their differences.
When he arrived in April that year, Elahi was overjoyed to see him. She wanted
to stay up talking, but Ahmed was tired, and insisted his wife go to bed at the
the little things she hated, to be controlled by him constantly,” Mesbah says.
you going? What time are you coming home? Go to bed. If I’m up, you have to get
up … She was an educated girl and no one likes to be controlled.”
Elahi did not see herself as a victim of abuse because her husband had never
physically hurt her. “I said, ‘if he is trying to control you, that is abuse’,”
she says. “She was like, ‘no, it’s because he loves me’. This is the problem
for a lot of women from our background, they think if a man tries to control
them, it’s a sign of love, but it’s not a sign of love, it’s a sign of control,
of them trying to exercise their authority over you.”
2015, Elahi and Ahmed travelled to Bangladesh with another couple, who were
close friends. Elahi and the friend’s husband, Omar Khan, confided in each
other that they were having marital problems. Ahmed asked his wife at the time
if they were having an affair; she denied it.
point, however, a relationship developed, and Elahi wrote Khan a love letter;
she said one day she could see herself becoming his wife. The letter found its
way to Khan’s wife, who showed it to Ahmed in September 2016. It triggered a
strong response. Elahi called police that day to say her husband had threatened
to kill himself.
after first confronting his wife about her feelings for Khan, Ahmed used the
discovery of intimate texts between the pair as justification for her murder.
did not argue the murder was premeditated. But while he was in Bangladesh,
Ahmed had searched online how to punish adulterous wives.
Mesbah that Elahi has been painted as an adulterer. She says the problems in
their marriage began before any relationship between Elahi and Khan started.
Elahi had not attended social gatherings with her husband in two years.
me, ‘we don’t hug, we don’t kiss, it’s over, he needs to understand that’,”
Mesbah says. Mesbah says Elahi told her she had not slept with Khan. Khan
testified in court the pair had engaged in “passionate kissing”.
Fariha, ‘did anything physical happen between the two of you?’, because we did
talk about sex, and she said, ‘no, you know me, I would never do that’,” Mesbah
that during the Pokemon craze, Elahi and Khan would meet to catch Pokemons
innocent she was,” she says. “It was a release from her troubles.”
last brunch, Mesbah told Elahi she would sign her divorce papers, as a witness
the couple had lived under one roof but had been separated for more than a
year. Mesbah says women experiencing violence should not have to rely on a
third party to prove they have been separated for 12 months, or be forced to
wait a year before being allowed to get divorced.
Elahi cared far more about being granted a Muslim divorce, Mesbah says she
wanted the civil divorce to prove to Ahmed the marriage was over.
going to give her the Muslim divorce,” she says. “So she wanted something to
say, ‘look I’ve done this part, you need to do your part and let me go’.”
told police he had wanted to “keep” Elahi because of what he had invested in
government’s fourth action plan to reduce violence against women and children
was announced in March and set aside $328 million for frontline services,
accommodation and prevention. It builds on work that began in 2010. Of that,
$12.1m has been earmarked for violence prevention strategies for vulnerable
groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and culturally and
linguistically diverse communities.
says the amount falls far short of what is needed.
national emergency that’s not being properly recognised,” she says. “We need to
see billions going into this.”
believes about 10 per cent of the total set aside to tackle violence should be
invested in prevention work.
need proper investment at both ends of the spectrum,” she says. “If we never
invest in prevention, violence against women will never stop … At the same
time, if we don’t invest in services, then women and children will not be safe
and that’s not an acceptable situation either.”
says that about 80 per cent of migrants and refugees come to Australia after
their secondary schooling is finished, which means it is difficult to reach
them with school-based programs such as the Respectful Relationships program,
piloted in Victoria in 2015. It frustrates her that different states are
investing in prevention projects that are not linked.
that would be a great investment of funds … so we can all learn from each other
instead of reinventing the wheel each time,” she says.
Valencia worked as a Spanish interpreter for 30 years and, as part of her work,
helped women access domestic violence services. Now retired, she says there is
a shortage of interpreters. The cases were not rare; she handled a few every
week, and found many women had no idea what services were out there.
they were referred only after landing in hospital or contacting police.
many migrant women listen to foreign-language media, such as SBS radio, and she
believes more effort should be made to publicise support services through those
channels or to produce stories about domestic violence, so that isolated women
know help is available. Valencia was a victim of violence; she knows how hard it
can be to take the first step.
you think you are the only one,” she says.
on the board of the Bankstown Women’s Health Centre, which provides a
“wraparound service” for women, providing access to counsellors, a legal
clinic, medical services and nutritionist. It’s another way of reaching women
might turn up to see a GP or to do a healthy cooking class and … as they
discuss their lives often they’ll make disclosures about abuse and then they
can be referred to the appropriate pathways,” she says.
Amani visits schools to educate young people, she says changing the culture is
hard. She wants more resources invested at the pointy end — in accommodation
and help for women to leave — to prevent more murders.
Now, at 31,
Amani reflects on how much more her mother could have done with her life. “She
was only 45 years old when she was murdered and I think of all that potential,
and of all the women out there who have so much potential but are facing barriers,”
she says. “We need to unlock that.”
Source: The Australian