Program empowers African Australian women to become leaders

Hodon Ahmed has raised six children in Australia since coming here twelve years ago and the family is bursting with pride at her latest achievement.

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The refugee from Somalia wants to be the first woman born there to become a Victorian police officer.

“It was my dream when I was sixteen, so I tried to learn when I was in year 12. So I didn’t have the opportunity to do it, I got married, I had kids. But now I like to join, to be one of them.”

The thirty-three-year-old is one of twenty-five people who have graduated from a specially-designed leadership course for migrant African women — run by R-M-I-T University’s Dr Nthati Rametse.

“It is very important because women themselves have been marginalised in society. And developing them to become leaders as they work in their own respective communities is important.”

It’s part of a City Of Melbourne project to help train students who may never have experienced such a formal education structure before.

Councillor Jackie Watts says it was a need identified by African communities themselves.

“They know, and we know, that if you can enhance the performance and participation of women in the sector, we all benefit. The City of Melbourne is committed to an inclusive community. The rhetoric is we’re a multicultural city, and it’s not just rhetoric, as far as we are concerned.”

Halima Mohamed hopes to use the leadership skills learnt to pass on some of the lessons from her own refugee experience, after coming to Australia fourteen years ago.

“Because what they have been through, I have been through too. So when they come I know their needs, I can understand how I can support them. And I feel everyone woman in our leadership group will get that point.”

It wasn’t your standard formal graduation ceremony — this one highlighting the arts and culture from the diverse African countries from where these women have come.

From celebrated Egyptian dancer Mohamed Ghareb to Zimbabwe-born rapper Simba Mack. The message of empowerment was loud and clear — and a message these graduates hope to take back to their communities.