Immigrant Muslim woman to be the first hijab-wearing senator in Australian parliament

File photo of Fatima Payman. | Picture Credit: AAP Newswire

Fatima Payman is an Afghan-Australian woman whose family fled Afghanistan in 1999 to settle in Australia.

Basil Islam | 

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NEW DELHI — Labor Party candidate Fatima Payman will be representing the state of Western Australia as a Senator, becoming the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to do so. Winning as the sixth Senator for the state, she is also the first Afghan Australian in the parliament. Payman’s win was confirmed on Monday, which also marked World Refugee Day.

Fleeing Afghanistan in 1999, her dad came to Australia as a refugee seeking political asylum. He worked different jobs to bring his family to the country finally in 2003. Payman was raised in the Northern suburbs of Perth as the eldest daughter of four children. “My father literally risked his life to find a better country for us. He travelled by boat for 11 nights. Those who have travelled by boat are seen as criminals and bad people. I won’t accept that description of my dad… He was an asylum seeker who wanted to find a safe place to establish a living,” Payman says in an interview to 7News. 

Payman’s political career began taking inspiration from her father’s struggles and involvement with the United Workers Union, where she came across many workers struggling similar to her father. 

“Coming from a working-class background, I saw my parents working extremely hard day and night to make ends meet. Just like any family to get food on the table, ensure they get a good education. After losing my dad to leukaemia, I realized that somebody has going to be an advocate, and I won’t let my dad’s sacrifices go in vain,” she stated in her press conference today.

Payman said she not only stands for people who identify as refugees or immigrants, people of colour, or Muslims but the Australian population as a whole. “Yes, it is true that I will be the first hijab-wearing parliamentarian. But my labour values are what have brought me this far, and before I identify as anything else, I will be a labour Senator. So in terms of the values that I aspire towards or want to see change, things that voice multicultural people and have them reflected in parliament,” Payman said in an interview with ABC radio

Green Senator Mehreen Faruqi applauded Payman on Twitter saying, “Really great to have another Muslim woman join the Senate. Representation matters, and I look forward to working with Fatima. Congratulations.”

The ruling Labor government has championed its diversity, with a ministerial lineup including the first female Muslim minister, Anne Aly, and the first Muslim to serve in cabinet, Ed Husic. Fatima Payman’s win as the hijabi Senator is significant in the upper house, where leaders like Pauline Hanson, the leader of Australia’s One Nation party, have issued numerous challenges against the country’s minorities. Hanson has benefited from – and helped to shape – the normalization of racism and xenophobia in Australia.

Basil Islam is an independent journalist and researcher based in South India. He tweets at @baasiie