Words by Amy Figueiredo, Curtin University journalism student
Photo supplied by Jessica Evensen, Curtin University journalism student
The moment Senator Fatima Payman entered – wearing a pink blazer, white top and pants and a beige hijab – there was a ripple of excitement through the auditorium.
Before the breakfast began, a few school students had described her as a “girl-boss”, which she soon proved to be the case.
Ms Payman was the guest speaker at the Women in Media WA International Women’s Day breakfast, sharing her inspiring story with people from all over Perth.
Ms Payman came to Australia as an eight-year-old in 2003 after her family fled from the Taliban.
Fast forward 20 years, the now 28-year-old is the first Hijab-wearing representative and youngest serving Senator.
She joined ABC journalist Tabarak Al Jrood to discuss her journey to politics and why she wants to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Photo supplied by Erin Broderick, Women in Media WA
“My dad and I used to talk about politics all the time,” she said.
“For me, it was about that representation on a federal level and the impact I could have on people’s lives.
“We’re such a beautiful multicultural nation, but if we’re not speaking up and having that representation then we aren’t doing justice for that title which we carry.”
Ms Payman says she realised she was perceived as “different” when she was approached in a public forum by a stranger.
“She came up to me and asked where I fitted in to all of this,” she said.
“I wondered why I was sticking out like a sore thumb.
“Looking back, I commend that woman for asking because it put a fire in me.
“I then chose to put myself in the most uncomfortable situation I could think of for people to come up and talk to me.
“Parliament made me finally feel heard, like my voice mattered.”
Now, the Labor Senator uses her voice to empower women and those who feel they don’t fit in.
“I want to give a voice to the voiceless. As the youngest person in Parliament, I will make sure I am the voice of young people,” she said.
“I want to bring that to the forefront.”
Ms Payman also took the chance to encourage people to vote in the upcoming referendum later this year.
“This is our time to be on the right side of history,” she said, “To make change, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within our Constitution and give them a voice for issues in their lives.
“Who are we to be telling the Traditional Owners the solutions to their problems and the challenges they’re facing?”
Ms Payman left the crowd inspired and proved why she is quickly becoming one of the State’s most inspirational female leaders.
She said she is just one person doing her best to do right by her community.
“I still have so much to improve on and learn, but if you want to see yourself represented somewhere, be that first person.”