With novels like ‘Sh*t Asian Mothers Say’ and ‘Asian Girls are Going Places’, Michelle Law continues to prove that Asian Australian women and voices matter, and that they deserve a place in our society to share their experiences just as much as any other woman. Being a screenwriter, author, and playwright, not only has Michelle deviated from what many Asian communities consider ‘legitimate’ career paths (I’m talking about you medicine, law, and engineering), but she has done so in a way that spotlights the trials and triumphs of being an Asian woman in a (predominately white) world, thus giving Asian Australian women a chance to see themselves represented in spaces they weren’t before. Her comedy, ‘Miss Peony’, for example, touches on the complex experience of being an Australian-born Chinese woman and navigating that often confusing intersection of culture, race, and identity, especially in a country like Australia, where those factors are often blended together. Overall, Michelle’s contributions to the Australian media landscape no doubt serve as an entrypoint for future Asian Australian women looking to break biases and assume positions in society that were once not accessible. Her work is a stark reminder that, as her novel suggests, Asian girls are going places.
Nyadol Nyuon is a lawyer and human rights advocate, who migrated to Australia from Northern Kenya as a refugee when she was 17. Nyadol, who went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University, now practices law and is a successful commercial litigator. Nyadol stands as a potent reminder to BIPOC girls everywhere, that breaking barriers and biases is not synonymous with having privilege. Her work, including community advocacy with a strong focus on human rights, multiculturalism, and refugees and asylum seekers, emphasises the importance of women having opportunities to make a change and a difference. She is a regular face on ABC’s The Drum, as well as Q&A, and has been vocal about the impacts of migrants settling into Australia – specifically African Australians. In 2011 and 2014, Nyadol was nominated as one of the 100 most influential African Australians. If that doesn’t reinforce the extent of her impact, she is also a nominee for the 2022 Victorian Australian of the Year. Ultimately, throughout her work and advocacy, Nyadol has been a force for change in Australia, breaking biases – and barriers – for BIPOC Australian women everywhere.
In her recent memoir, Girl, Transcending: Becoming the woman I was born to be, AJ Clementine shares what it was like to grow up Wasian in a blended family, and her transformation into a model, digital creator and transgender advocate. AJ Clementine shares her experience with navigating, on the one hand, undying support and freedom from her mum and siblings to be her true self, while on the other hand, judgements and criticisms from her biological dad and society. Having overcome immense hurdles and subsequently finding the courage to undergo gender reassignment surgery, she is a strong proponent of “creating environments where kids feel that they’re okay exactly as they are, and giving them safe spaces to grow into themselves without fear” (Girl, Transcending by AJ Clementine) in a reality that still does not fully accept trans people. While the 25-year-old Asian Australian influencer dons a fairy princess aesthetic on her social media platforms today, she is changing the world with her openness and positivity, sharing her transition story, mental health advice and body positivity. AJ Clementine is breaking the bias everyday by being a source of inspiration for the LGBTQIA+ community and young people struggling with their confidence, identity, and just being themselves.
In ‘Emotional Female’, Yumiko Kadota reflects on her previous life as a surgeon in a high stress and high stakes hospital environment. Yumiko was what every Asian parent had dreamed of: school captain, top of her class, working at a prestigious hospital as a surgeon. After working through a gruelling seventy hour week and being the on the receiving end of relentless sexism, racism, and discrimination she has encountered by senior surgeons, she left. Yumiko shines a light on a broken Australian medical system that often pushes young doctors and Women of Colour doctors to the brink. Her burnt out led to the resilience in wanting to share her deeply personal and vulnerable story. She encourages those who feel invisible to speak out and question the patriarchal structure and systemic barriers of our society that are disproportionately affecting Women of Colour. Her drive is to encourage people to think more critically about the systemic factors that are driving people out of jobs and careers and advocate for future healthcare staff and her colleagues so they do not experience the same things as she does.
First generation Japanese Australian immigrant, Asami Koike is a registered music therapist and yoga teacher, amassing over 17 years experience working in the youth mental health, trauma and community sectors. Following an experience of immense burnout and PTSD, Asami founded Shapes and Sounds, which is now a leading voice for Asian Australian mental health and wellbeing. By acknowledging and highlighting the pertinent role that factors, such as culture, race, gender and family history, in our mental health, Asami, and Shapes and Sounds is filling the gap where mental health services lack culturally responsive practice. Asami’s efforts in her mission to create a safe space for open discussion about mental health and wellbeing across Asian diaspora in Australia have helped countless Asian Australians. By encouraging greater engagement in conversations about our mental health and wellbeing, Asami continues to break the bias and dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health and wellbeing in the Asian Australian community.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi is the first migrant Muslim woman to become a senator in Australian history. She is someone who advocates for climate change, anti-racism legislation and frameworks and grounds her political work in elevating the voices and experiences of WOC and other minority groups. Her fearless attitude when championing for the decriminalisation of abortion is only one of the many ways in which she continues to break the bias. By acknowledging the importance of bodily autonomy, Mehreen challenges the biases present within current Australian politics and wider Asian cultures regarding women’s right to self determination. Furthermore, Mehreen proudly wears her Pakistani cultural attire, the shalwar kameez, when sitting in parliament and attending formal events. She inspires South Asian and women from other ethnicities to remain confident in their culture and their identity, reminding us that Eurocentric norms of Western society are not the only ways in which we can exist and thrive.
Yusra, an Egyptian-Australian Muslim woman, is the founder of the grassroots swimming initiative ‘Swim Sisters’. Muslim women and women from CALD backgrounds are either often too shy or do not have a proper understanding of water safety to swim. Fuelled by the racial prejudice of France banning burkinis on beaches in 2016, Yusra founded Swim Sisters to quite literally break bias against Muslim women’s choice of clothing. However, the organisation has become more than just a pushback against the Islamophobic policies of Western governments as its mission is to endow people from CALD communities with knowledge regarding safe swimming and how to spot dangers while swimming at the beach. By recognising the gap of knowledge and safety within Western Sydney communities, Yusra’s initiative has empowered many CALD and Muslim women to not only learn swimming but also enjoy it, with many members going on to become qualified lifeguards. Yusra’s love for water has broken cultural biases about women swimming and has challenged the Eurocentric perception that Muslim women’s choice of swimming attire is something to be shunned.
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